Safe Schools coalition says district could do more to protect at-risk youth

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District recently received a “silver” ranking from the Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition.

While OSSCC’s primary focus is sexual orientation and gender identity issues, the organization seeks to promote school safety by raising awareness of all kinds of harassment, violence and discrimination.

The school district’s silver ranking recognizes the district’s anti-harassment policies as “substantially compliant” with Oregon statues while not specifically referencing gender identity and gender expression as a protected class.

Among Oregon’s 197 school districts, 67 received gold rankings because they were compliant with the law and also expressly referenced gender identity and expression.

A total of 60 districts received silver rankings, while 55 were awarded bronze rankings to indicate that their policies need revising to bring them into compliance with the law. Those needing improvement included the nearby Riverdale and Lake Oswego school districts.

A further 15 districts were not rated, either because they do not have policies or did not make them available online or upon request.

School districts were evaluated on how well their policies complied with the amended Oregon Safe Schools Act. Passed in 2009 and amended in 2012, the act strengthened protections for students who are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, or who are targeted because of their gender identity.

Compared to last year’s rankings, the number of districts recognized with gold or silver more than doubled. Last year, 43 districts received gold rankings and 12 received silver.

West Linn-Wilsonville’s policy states that “there will be no discrimination or harassment on the grounds of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, national origin, age or disability in any educational programs, activities or employment.”

The lack of reference to gender identity or expression does not mean the district will tolerate harassment or discrimination on that basis.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to those things,” Deputy Superintendent Jane Stickney said. “We do periodically review those policies and update them,” using, she said, language recommended by the Oregon School Board Association.

When the discrimination policy was last updated, the district would have used the language recommended at that time.

Adding language specific to gender identity and expression is important, according to OSSCC, because lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth are more likely than other students to be targeted at school.

According to a report by the LGBTQ ( Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) Health Coalition of the Columbia-Willamette, 53 percent of LGBQ youth in Oregon reported being harassed at school in a 30-day period, compared to 28 percent of the state’s straight youth. The report also found that 15 percent of the state’s LGBQ youth missed school in a 30-day period because they felt unsafe, compared to 4 percent of straight youth. Most chillingly, 20 percent of LGBQ youth in the state attempt suicide each year, compared to 5 percent of straight youth.

“We believe that bullying for any reason is inappropriate in a school setting,” Stickney said. “Now that it’s been brought to my attention, it’s just a matter of updating.”

Patrick Douglas, a 2012 West Linn graduate and a leader for two years of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said the silver rating seemed appropriate. In his view, although the district has made progress, it still has a long way to go.

“In my experience, the teachers and staff at West Linn High School were pretty accommodating and understanding people,” Douglas said. “I worked with the school administration to a degree, and they were always receptive to what I had to say. The students weren’t always open and accepting, though ... I was never afraid of anyone trying to hurt me, but the name-calling and the homophobic attitudes I had to deal with were really frustrating.”

Adjusting the policy’s language would help, Douglas said.

“I don’t think the administration at West Linn would ever be hesitant to help someone being bullied. So it’s unlikely that anyone would need to fall back on the rules. All the same, I think it would be a good thing.”

Read more about the State of the Safe Schools Act online at

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