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Paso school board waits to change language protecting LGBTQ-plus students 

"Hit, punched, shoved, kicked."

All were forms of assault that LGBTQ-plus youth reported they'd experienced, according the California Healthy Kids Survey. About 63 percent of gay/lesbian/bisexual students in SLO County reported being bullied and/or harassed in 2021-22. In addition, almost 50 percent said they'd "seriously considered suicide," Dusty Colyer-Worth told the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District board on Aug. 9.

click to enlarge CAN KICKING The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District pushed a decision on making changes to the LGBTQ-plus protections included in its harassment/discrimination regulation, which some district employees characterized as the opposite of what the district promised after last year's Pride flag incident. - FILE PHOTO BY MALEA MARTIN
  • File Photo By Malea Martin
  • CAN KICKING The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District pushed a decision on making changes to the LGBTQ-plus protections included in its harassment/discrimination regulation, which some district employees characterized as the opposite of what the district promised after last year's Pride flag incident.

"I am one of those youth at one point in time," said the new executive director of the Gala Pride and Diversity Center, who graduated from Paso Robles High School in 1997. "I don't want to be back here 25 years from now having to share these numbers again."

He spoke during a hearing on proposed changes to the district's administrative regulation on harassment and discrimination, which he characterized as stripping the language protecting intersex, nonbinary, transgender, and gender-nonconforming students back to the "bare minimum."

"Bare minimum of the law ... may seem sufficient for those who have never had to defend their right to exist in a space," Colyer-Worth said. "There's no excuse for you not to be innovative, not to be continuously seeking improvement, and be explicit in your support of our LGBTQI-plus youth and the treatment they deserve and should be respected."

Before the hearing started, District Superintendent Curt Dubost said much of the language included in the regulation was approved in 2020, with an update made in March 2022 based on recommendations from the California School Boards Association. That version of the regulation "immediately caused controversy," he said, based on its inclusion of greater detail for protections of LGBTQ-plus students than it did for other classes of students. Due to those concerns, he said the district "needed the assistance of legal counsel to determine what was mandated" in order to comply with state law.

"The revision tonight takes much of the specific protections for LGBTQ out of [the administrative regulation]. This doesn't not mean that protection does not still apply," Dubost said. "Laws are evolving on these topics. ... Several attorneys contributed to the final draft, which attempts to strike the balance which we seek."

The proposal removes a section in the regulation titled "Issues unique to intersex, nonbinary, transgender, and gender-nonconforming students." The section comprised definitions of terms such as "gender transition," "gender identity of a student," and "intersex student"; listed examples of prohibited conduct that could be considered gender-based harassment; described what constitutes a student's right to privacy; and detailed how the district would support a student's gender identity and transition.

Almost all of the public comment during the meeting focused on what the school district needed to do to protect students. But they diverged on what that meant. Although teachers and members of the LGBTQ-plus community spoke about ensuring that LGBTQ-plus students felt safe in school, several parents said they were concerned about bathroom use, locker rooms, athletic teams, and girls "changing in front of a boy."

Republican Party of San Luis Obispo Chair Randall Jordan said he was glad to see that the district was offering gender-neutral or single-use restrooms or changing areas. But, he added that the very next sentence in the administrative regulation states that the district wouldn't require a student to use those options.

"If you feel like you're a different gender, then you can do pretty much whatever you want," Jordan said. "It doesn't work. You can't give someone privacy and then take it away, which is what you're doing. ... The proposed regulation should be revised."

Many speakers who thought the district should leave the regulation as it stood said they felt like the district had changed directions after promising the LGBTQ-plus community that it would take steps to ensure that incidents such as what happened last year—when students tore down a Pride flag from a classroom at the high school and filmed themselves defecating on it—wouldn't happen in the future.

"In the wake of that hateful action, our district had to confront the reality that many LGBTQ students feel unsafe and unprotected in our district," high school teacher Geoffrey Land said, adding that the high school was making progress in the right direction. "My concerns are really for the students in my classes and in district schools that are feeling unprotected and at risk. ... These actions are overdue, we're making progress, and I fear that tonight, we might be thrown off course."

School board members voted unanimously to table the proposal, saying the issue warranted further discussion and alluding to potentially having a study session in the near future. Dubost responded to the concerns expressed about the district's forward movement, post Pride flag-incident.

"In no way, shape, or form am I or the district shirking from the commitment that we made to those wonderful kids who had the grace to forgive me for the mistakes I made in my initial handling of it, and my commitment to those kids is unwavering. But I'm also responsible for all the other kids in the school," he said. "We have to determine exactly what the law is and be fair to everybody." Δ

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