"Safe zones" debated in Vermont

BY Advocate.com Editors

November 14 2002 12:00 AM ET

The theft in Barre, Vt., of a card posted on a teacher's door signifying that students can go to her to discuss issues of sexual orientation has triggered a debate about whether such signs are proper in school. Middle school art teacher Rachael Erickson asked the school board on Monday for permission to replace a "safe zone" card that was stolen from her door. Board members told Erickson it would be best if she didn't replace the card just yet. "Right now we want to just study this issue," board chairwoman Anita Ristau said, pointing out that the matter will be taken up by the board's policy committee when it meets in two weeks.

Ristau's reply capped an hour-long discussion that featured two decidedly different perspectives about the value of cards like the one resident David Ayer admitted to taking from Erickson's classroom door. Ayer--who was joined at the meeting by Steve Cable, founder and president of the Rutland, Vt.-based Center for American Cultural Renewal--objected to the so-called safe zone card's connection to Outright Vermont, a group that promotes respect for people with a range of sexual orientations. "It's unfortunate and sad that schools are placed in the middle of controversial issues that can only detract from education," Cable said.

Erickson, who was joined at the meeting by several supporters, urged board members not to make Outright Vermont the issue. "I think that we all agree that the bottom line is for all students to be safe," she said, encouraging the board to follow state laws designed to prevent harassment based on an individual's sexual orientation. Erickson claimed that such harassment occurs with unacceptable regularity at Barre's K-8 elementary school. "Regardless of who they [students] are [sexually], they have a right to be safe," she said.

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