Report calls attention to gender identity issues

A recent report by a state advocacy group said the Lake Oswego School District governance documents on harassment, intimidation, bullying and cyberbullying need an update to be in compliance with state law.

Oregon Safe Schools & Communities Coalition’s second annual State of the Safe Schools Act report gave Lake Oswego, Riverdale and 53 other school districts, or 28 percent of the state, a bronze rating. It is the coalition’s lowest possible ranking for compliance. The report looked at 197 school districts in Oregon.

“OSSCC is encouraging districts to adopt up-to-date policies because they create a district-wide framework that supports making schools safer for everyone,” said Aaron Ridings, project director of the coalition.

The report, released last month, said 53 percent of LGBQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer) youths in Oregon were harassed at school in the previous 30 days.

After hearing about the ranking, incoming board chairwoman Patti Zebrowski said the board may be a bit behind in implementing policy changes because it’s been hectic recently with union contract negotiations and budget preparations. She said the board will have an opportunity to discuss the policy at its priority-setting meeting next month.

“We’ll make sure that it’s updated,” she said. “I think that’s the intention: to make sure that we’re completely in compliance, if not above compliance.”

Even if it’s not in written policy, Zebrowski said the expectations are clear that Lake Oswego schools do not allow bullying or harassment of any student.

“Our administration has zero tolerance,” she said.

The Riverdale School District updated its policy on June 26, 2012, days before state policy changed on bullying, cyberbullying, intimidation and harassment, however the school appears to be compliant based on the district's research, district spokeswoman Jody Haagenson said.

Haagenson said on Wednesday that gender specific language was not in the policy, but on Thursday, she said further research revealed that the school does have it in the policy. Based on district analysis of its documents, Riverdale should have gotten a silver ranking, she added.

The school has a strong focus on protecting students, even adding a focus on teen dating violence into its policy, Haagenson said.

The coalition, an advocacy group for the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender youth population, rated all school districts in the state. Districts were deemed “substantially compliant” and earned a gold or silver ranking if their governance documents on harassment, intimidation, bullying and cyberbullying met at least 80 percent of state requirements. About 30 percent of districts received a silver ranking.

About 34 percent of school districts got a gold ranking, which means policy also referenced gender identity and gender expression as protected classes.

School districts must use state definitions of protected classes, including “gender identity,” which the Lake Oswego School District’s policy is missing.

Board member Bob Barman said adding that to the policy would send a message of support.

“Kids should be safe every day, every time, and if they aren’t, we should have procedures in place,” Barman said.

Barman said there are many local students who identify with a different gender than the one they are born with who are treated kindly by their peers.

Asha Schwarz, who graduated from Lakeridge High School this year, identifies as female and uses female pronouns. She was born male with the name Ty.

Schwarz, 18, said many other students suffer more at the hands of bullies than she does because she has a strong network of friends.

“I’m not sure about other people, but I know that I am probably one of the more fortunate ones,” Schwarz said.

She has not had much trouble with gender-identity bullying since she started wearing makeup and women’s apparel to school. She has overheard a whispered comment or two, but the only incident that stands out for her was when one boy made fun of her nail polish, saying it made her “look gay.”

“People were pretty much fine about it to my face, but I’m sure there were things said behind my back,” Schwarz said.

She said the school district agreed to change her first name and gender designation in its records. The 2013 graduation list that Lakeridge released includes “Asha Schwarz.”

Even if the Lake Oswego School District may not be as current as other districts on some policies, the coalition was readily able to acquire its policy information.

The coalition deemed 8 percent of districts “absent” because they did not have the relevant documents on their websites and did not provide a copy upon request. Ridings said updating district policy can further change.

“The process of adopting a new policy can help start the conversation about conducting anti-bullying training, supporting high school gay-straight alliances and creating a plan to address bullying, harassment and violence in schools,” Ridings said.

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