UPDATE: Bentonville schools again to consider equal employment policy | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 1, 2015

UPDATE: Bentonville schools again to consider equal employment policy

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 4:03 PM

The Bentonville School Board will meet tonight and a member of the ad hoc Bentonville Bentonville Public Schools Citizens for Equality says the board may vote on an equal employment policy for district employees that includes sexual orientation and gender identity among specifically protected classes.

Oppositon organized by conservative religious groups has brought the pot to boiling on the issue. Rebecca Powers, a School Board member and herself a supporter of evangelical political causes, has been prominent in outspoken oppositon

We've written about the unhappiness Powers caused by twice calling down a student supporter of equal rights on Facebook. Those supporting equal rights have accused her of cyberbullying. She's said those who want equal rights are the bullies.

Powers issued a non-apology of sorts over the mention of the student, which drew the attention of an editorial writer at the Northwest Arkansas Gazette over the weekend. The editorial decided Powers hadn't cyber-bullied , though it said her statements were "ill-advised." It chastised her, too, for focusing her fight against a policy she opposes on a student. Inappropriate, the editorial said.

Now comes Citizens for Equality with a letter that said the editorial didn't go far enough. I've excerpted it. The group will be Tweeting from the school board meeting tonight. Twitter handle: @BPSCFE

UPDATE: The opponents' strategy was to get a vote in favor of the existing limited EEO policy. It failed on a 4-3 vote. Lawyers, including now the Friday Firm (historically, as a matter of note, the go-to firm in the bad old days for Arkansas school districts hoping to defend segregation) will continue to study all district policies and await a U.S.Supreme Court ruling on marriage that might hold guidance on other gay rights issues. It was a small victory that the antis lost the vote tonight. A much sadder note: A mother told the School Board about bullying her gay middle school child had endured from other children and administrators. It IS legal in Arkansas to discriminate against gay people in employment. It is NOT acceptable for school employees to allow bullying of students for any reason, gay or otherwise. But this IS Bentonville. Discussion continues on Rebecca Powers, the anti-gay Board member who attacked a student for defending equality.

UPDATE: Tippi McCullough, a Little Rock school teacher who lost her job at Mount St. Mary Academy after she married her partner, wrote the School Board a letter encouraging it to adopt a policy such as the Little Rock School District has on equal employment opportunity. McCullough, a leader of the Stonewall Democrats, wrote in part:

I am writing to encourage you to vote to include pregnancy status, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, veteran status, gender identity and genetic information to the current Bentonville Public Schools Equal Employment Policy.

I am in my 30th year of teaching in Arkansas. I was first hired in 1985 to begin my teaching career. I have always been proud to teach and be a part of the community anywhere I have been including Kingston HS, Newport HS, Mountain Pine HS, Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, and now Little Rock Central HS. However, in October of 2013 I was fired from my teaching job for legally marrying my partner of then 14 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know from experience that this can and does happen. I was lucky that the Pulaski County Special School District stepped up and immediately hired me and then at semester that year, Principal Nancy Rousseau called and asked me to interview at Central High School where I now proudly teach. I am also proud to say that the Little Rock School District has a policy ….

I encourage you to leave no doubt that Bentonville School District will not tolerate outright discrimination or the possible perception of discrimination in any form of any employee of your school district. Please make a choice to be proactive in your leadership and to send the message that in Arkansas we treat our employees equally and respectfully. This is so important especially since we are responsible for educating our future leaders.

It simply can never be detrimental to choose to not discriminate.

The excerpts of the letter: from Citizens for Equality

Focusing on school board member powers and responsibilities as well as ethical obligations is important to understanding the gravity of Ms. Powers’ actions. ... Board members shall be nonpartisan in dealing with school district matters and they shall place the interest of the students ahead of partisan principle, group interest, or personal self-interest.

....Ms. Powers explicitly, and wrongly, identified the student as an atheist and as a student who was reprimanded. Why would a school board member, an elected official, discuss and disparage a student’s background or belief system, or in other words, the “perceived or actual attributes” of the student? Does her comment make atheists or non-believers feel welcome? Does it make someone who does not have her same beliefs feel welcome? Does it make a student who may have been reprimanded by school officials feel comfortable that their private information and identities are safe with school officials and administrators? Is Ms. Powers fulfilling her ethical duty to have in the “best interest of each and every one of these young people without distinction as to who they are or what their background may be”? Ms. Powers must surely recognize that she is in a position of power over the administration, faculty, and students.

To ensure that a board member does not use his or her standing as a school board member to impose upon the administration, faculty, and students, a provision concerning this issue has been written into the policies and procedures manual. It is vitally important to recognize that for any person with authority or input into any employment decisions, any express statement that suggests prejudice based on a suspect class (in this case, derision towards an individual’s perceived religious beliefs) would be strong e
vidence that that person would be subjectively motivated by unlawful prejudice.

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