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School Board adds sexual orientation to hiring policy

MEDFORD — The School Board on Tuesday added sexual orientation to its policy requiring equal employment opportunity for all as required by a new state law.

In adopting the revision, the Medford School District joined other districts that have recently explicitly forbidden discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people and those who identify with a sex different from that of birth.

"I feel this is a long overdue and important addition to our board policy," said board President Mike Moran.

Central Point and Phoenix-Talent school districts are among the districts that have included sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies in the past two months.

The Ashland School District has provided equal employment opportunities regardless of sexual orientation in its policy for five years.

The Rogue River School District plans to follow suit at a future meeting. Eagle Point schools Superintendent Cynda Rickert said she had not yet discussed adding sexual orientation to the district's equal employment opportunity policy.

The statewide revisions were spurred by a far-reaching anti-discrimination law, Senate Bill 2, passed in 2007 by the state Legislature and recommended by Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Task Force on Equality in Oregon.

In Medford, Jackson County's largest district at 12,100 students, the revision drew both strong support and vehement opposition.

Roger McPherson, father of two South Medford graduates, said the school district should be teaching math and reading, not "lifestyle choices."

"The state has overextended itself here: There is a functional difference between tolerance, simple respect and the state commanding turpitude in our schools," said Tom Smith, father of a Hedrick Middle School pupil and two Hoover Elementary students.

After quoting Scriptures that some view as a condemnation of gay sex, Smith urged the board "to push back against our era's obsession with public sex and sexual perversion" and "protect children."

In reply, Board Member Tricia Prendergast said: "I take offense at the statement that being gay is perverse and is going to hurt children. I think that's totally out of line."

She also said that adding sexual orientation to the equal employment opportunity policy will not mean conversations about sex in the classrooms.

"It's a hiring policy, not something added to the curriculum," she said.

"I can't imagine not providing equal opportunity to all of those groups (in the policy)," Moran said. "I have many friends in the community who are gay and lesbian. They are productive and valuable members of society."

Sally Killen, a retired teacher from Hedrick Middle School and former union leader who regularly attends board meetings, said she supported the board's decision.

"I was offended by the language Tom Smith was using," Killen said. "Schools are not the place to discuss religion."

Before Tuesday's update of the district's anti-discrimination policy, job applicants were not asked about their sexual orientation, district officials said.

Under the state law, sexual orientation pertains to those who are straight, gay, bisexual or identify with a different gender, regardless of whether appearance, expression or behavior differs from that traditionally associated with a person's sex at birth.

Noncompliance with the law could bring sanctions against school districts, including the loss of state funding.