School district asked to 'add the words'

Protections sought for LGBT staff, teachers, students

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During a Coeur d'Alene School District board meeting Monday at the Midtown Center, Susan Moss, a local attorney, makes a request of board members to add language to the current policy that would protect LGBT employees from discrimination.

COEUR d'ALENE - The controversial campaign to change Idaho's anti-discrimination laws to include protections for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has surfaced again in Coeur d'Alene.

Nine months after the Coeur d'Alene City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Coeur d'Alene School District trustees are being asked to do something similar.

Susan Moss, a Coeur d'Alene attorney and the parent of children living in the district, attended Monday's board meeting and asked the trustees to overhaul the district's policies to provide protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

"In doing this ... you're saying that LGBT staff, teachers and students basically deserve the same shot at employment and the same shot at education as everyone else," Moss said.

Moss's request was not on the agenda, but it still attracted dozens of people to the meeting. Before Moss spoke, at least 142 people were crowded into the meeting room and flowing out the door of the district's Midtown Center on north Fifth Street.

Moss told the trustees she found nine different school district policies that are silent on non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

She said that sexual orientation is already noted in one of the district's policies - its anti-bullying policy.

"When we have the protection against sexual orientation in the bullying policy, you're basically saying, 'OK, kids can't be bullied for being gay, but we can fire our teachers for being gay,'" Moss said. "There is nothing that prohibits that here."

Board chair Tom Hearn said the trustees will ask their attorney to review the request to see how they should handle it.

Because much of the school district lies within Coeur d'Alene city boundaries, the city ordinance would cover the school district. But the Coeur d'Alene School District's boundaries also include the cities of Dalton Gardens and Hayden, where there are not similar protections.

Tim Scott, a former tennis coach at Lake City High School, spoke next.

Scott accused trustees Tom Hearn and Christa Hazel of being dishonest about the issue.

Scott said he and John Padula, who also attended Monday's board meeting, asked trustees in January and February if they were having any discussions with members of the LGBT community, and they were told no discussions were taking place.

"...this board was addressed with a concern relating to the LGBT approaching the school district board and proposing a change in school policy wording that would create a special class and a special group of individuals, which could ultimately open the door to allow these individuals access to their respective opposite restrooms and showers facilities and provide them with special privileges not available to other students," Scott said.

Scott said that through a public records request, the men received copies of all of Tom Hearn's school board account emails for November and December and discovered two instances where Hearn communicated with members of the LGBT community and the school board.

"You guys acted like there was nothing going on," said Padula, who runs Set Apart Discipleship, a faith-based halfway house that is an outreach of Good Samaritan drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Coeur d'Alene.

Trustee Christa Hazel said the men were mis-characterizing the situation.

"The statement that I lied is not true," Hearn said.

He said that when the questions were asked, no formal request had been made of the board. He admitted that he was aware Moss had contacted the district about the policies, and said he alerted other board members that the issue could become a formal request.

Superintendent Matt Handelman said he had heard from Moss last fall and said the matter was handled as a policy issue.

"I've been aware of it. Whether I knew she (Moss) was LGBT, that never came into play," Handelman said. "Ultimately the decision will come from the board. This is the start of the discussion."

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