The Medford School Board on Tuesday will consider adding sexual orientation to its policy requiring equal employment opportunity for all.

The Medford School Board on Tuesday will consider adding sexual orientation to its policy requiring equal employment opportunity for all.

The proposed revision was spurred by a far-reaching anti-discrimination law passed in 2007 by the state Legislature and recommended by Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Task Force on Equality in Oregon.

In response to the law, some Jackson County school districts, such as Central Point and Phoenix-Talent, have revised their equal employment opportunity policies.

Others included sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies on their own. The Ashland School District has made equal employment opportunity for people regardless of their sexual preference part of policy for about five years.

In Medford, the county's largest district at 12,400 pupils, the proposed revision is controversial.

Discussion about it began Feb. 19 when school board Vice Chairman Eric Dziura noted the upcoming revision at a school board meeting.

"It was controversial when it was considered by the state Legislature; it's been controversial at the national level, so naturally, the patrons in our district would be concerned about it as well," Dziura said. "The (proposed) policy reflects state and federal law."

Some Medford parents argue that including sexual orientation in the district policy goes too far, particularly by protecting employees who have chosen to change their gender identity. Other parents say the policy should have been revised long ago.

"I think we are behind the times," said Billie Galbraith, mother of a student at South Medford High School and a student at Roosevelt Elementary School. "I'm kind of surprised this is a subject we are still debating."

Under the provision, sexual orientation pertains to heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or gender identity regardless of whether appearance, expression or behavior differs from that traditionally associated with a person's sex at birth.

The anti-discrimination law for sexuality came in tandem with a new domestic partnership law, giving same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities granted under state law through a marriage contract.

Medford district officials said they do not inquire about employees' sexual orientation in the course of hiring.

Steve Plunk, parent of a student at North Medford High School, said he doesn't object to employment protections for homosexuals but objects to the district hiring transsexual teachers because it would be confusing and disruptive to students.(See correction below.)

"This extends protections to employees that override the district's responsibility to protect students and provide them with an environment that is conducive to learning," Plunk said.

Plunk added that the state law has robbed the local community of governing schools to fit the community sentiment.

Ed Chun, parent of two Lone Pine Elementary students, said he doesn't object to the district following the law.

"I have gay friends," Chun said. "I think they were born that way, whether by evolution or God."

However, he described one hypothetical situation that would bother him: "A teacher shows up with a scruffy beard wearing a dress, and my kid comes home and says, 'Mr. So and So came to school in a dress, and he says he prefers dressing like a woman.'"

Katie Tso, PTO member at Hoover Elementary School, said people of all sexual orientations and gender identities should have protection and equal opportunities in the workplace, including schools.

"I know there are people in this valley who have a problem with it," Tso said. "I just don't see it that way."

Galbraith said having teachers of different backgrounds and sexual orientations can be a good learning experience for children.

"I look at high school as a microcosm of the bigger world," Galbraith said. "What my son encounters there is similar to what he will encounter in the real world. I'd rather it happen now when we can discuss it with him than later when he is on his own."

Correction: The original version of this story omitted Steve Plunk's first name. This version has been corrected.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.