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Citizens committee delivers diversity plan to school board.

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - The Springfield School Board offered warm words and a standing ovation Monday to members of a citizens panel charged with retooling a hot-button diversity plan aimed at making students feel safe, respected and able to learn.

With more than half of the 26 members of the Safety and Respect Committee in the room, the board listened to a formal presentation from five who represented the disparate and often clashing points of view within the group. Taking turns, they gave brief overviews of the 14-page plan, crafted over the course of six months in 12 lengthy - and frequently contentious - meetings.

School board members were effusive, and vowed to take quick action on the plan when it comes back to them for approval later in the fall, following a Sept. 12 public hearing.

"I'm just humbled by the breadth and depth of this report," board Vice-Chairman Jonathan Light said.

Fellow board member Garry Weber said serving on any district committee is a difficult and time-consuming act of volunteerism. However, he added, "when I attended your committee meetings, I realized you had the added responsibility and weight and risk-taking of self-disclosure in controversial areas. ... My hat's off to you."

Made up of parents, students, district employees and community members, the committee began meeting in January after the school board scrubbed an earlier diversity plan that met with fierce opposition from conservatives. Their chief objections centered on passages they feared would open the door to curriculum describing homosexuality as positive, but they also took issue with sections dealing with hiring policies.

The second committee left hiring issues out of the plan entirely, but struggled mightily with sexual orientation - so much so that, early on, several members were convinced they'd never reach accord.

But as the meetings wore on, the mistrust and recalcitrance faded.

"They were a model of how tough issues can be handled in a community," facilitator Greg McKenzie, from the Oregon School Boards Association, told the board.

In the end, all but three members signed off on the plan, which falls short of recommending that sexual orientation be added as a protected class to anti-discrimination and harassment policy, as some members wanted. Instead, it recommends amendments, if necessary, "to prohibit discrimination and harassment based on any condition that makes students diverse or different," and it notes that sexual orientation and gender identity, along with a slew of other characteristics, have been a basis for previous acts of harassment.

The five presenters - parents Wade Richardson and Cinda Eastin, both social conservatives; liberal-leaning community members Kate Wallace and Jerry Prud'homme; and 2005 Thurston High graduate Paul Griffith - each remarked on points important to them.

Wallace emphasized the need to better train staff to deal with an increasingly diverse population, and to share the plan with the broader community so students will find a climate of respect once they leave school.

Griffith cautioned that the plan is of little use without student involvement and buy-in, while Eastin stressed teaching students to appreciate differences "with civility."

"I believe the best gift we can give our students is the gift of thoughtful regard to differing opinion," she said.

Prud'homme urged the board to consider policy amendments to grant further protection to groups, and to ensure that the district's Positive Behavior Support program be implemented in more schools.

Richardson, meanwhile, reminded the board that the term diversity applies to all students, even those whose views district staff may find politically incorrect or even repugnant.
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Title Annotation:Schools; Panel members outline the proposal, which recommends amendments - if necessary - to prohibit discrimination
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 16, 2005
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