HESPERIA — Hesperia Unified School District Administrators sent a letter to the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the law firm Nixon Peabody stating they are implementing concrete changes to improve the climate for LGBTQ students in the district.

These important changes resulted after students in Sultana High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) spoke out against verbal bullying and harassment they suffered from teachers and administrators, censorship of the GSA, and gendered dress codes that promoted sex stereotypes.  In March, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Nixon Peabody LLP sent a letter to the district explaining how its actions violated the law and demanding change.

“We are very pleased the district took our allegations very seriously,” said Melissa Goodman, senior staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “They did a thorough investigation and are making concrete changes so LGBTQ students will be treated equally and will feel accepted.  Hesperia Unified School District has demonstrated that change is possible and that districts can take real, simple steps to create a safe, welcoming and bias-free environment for all students.  Unfortunately, we continue to hear complaints from students throughout the Inland Empire that their schools are not welcoming to LGBTQ students.  We’re writing to all Inland Empire school districts to provide information and resources about their legal obligations to LGBTQ students in the hope that other districts will make improvements proactively and replicate the model for change Hesperia Unified School District provides.  Schools should not wait until climate problems get to such a boiling point that LGBTQ students have to call the ACLU.”

By the end of last school year, the District made the following changes:

  • students were permitted to wear gender nonconforming clothes to prom
  • the GSA was allowed to have events previously prohibited such as screening the film Prayers for Bobby, an educational poster campaign about the harms anti-gay slurs cause, and participating in the annual Day of Silence
  • the school board adopted stronger discrimination, harassment, bullying, and complaint process policies

This school year, the following changes will be put in place:

  • Staff and students will be educated about new discrimination, bullying, and complaint process policies
  • Anti-bias training for teachers
  • No restrictions on gender non-conforming attire for dances and yearbook photos
  • No exclusions of same-sex couples from the yearbook
  • New club-related policies and practices that reduce chances of censorship and discrimination and ensure the GSA will be treated the same as all other school clubs

“Superintendent David McLaughlin has shown a clear commitment to ensuring a supportive educational environment for Hesperia’s LGBTQ students,” said Nixon Peabody LLP attorney Ellen Papadakis.  “We’re hopeful that the leadership in other High Desert districts will prove equally willing to listen to LGBTQ students about the climate in their own schools and to undertake any changes necessary to make sure that all students are treated with dignity.”

The ACLU SoCal is sending letters to all the school districts in the Inland Empire explaining the resources the ACLU SoCal’s LGBTQ Student Rights Project has to offer and reminding them of their legal obligations to create a safe and bias-free environment for all students.

“I’m so happy LGBTQ students will be attending Sultana in the same building but with what I hope will be a completely different and positive environment, “said Levi Johnston, who graduated this year. “I feel proud that, by taking a stand, our GSA changed things for the better for current and future LGBTQ students at Sultana.”

Letter to IE Schools: http://www.aclusocal.org/letter-to-ie-schools/

Hesperia Responds to ACLU: http://www.aclusocal.org/hesperia-response-letter/

Click here for history of this issue: http://www.aclusocal.org/hesperia-hs-lgbtq-letter/

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