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Rampant Antigay Bias at Oregon School Costs Principal His Job

Liv Funk and Hailey Smith
From left: Students Liv Funk and Hailey Smith

Students at North Bend High School said they were forced to read the Bible and were told LGBT people were hell-bound.

A high school principal and a school resource officer in North Bend, Ore., are being removed from their jobs as their district settles complaints of anti-LGBT discrimination that included forcing students to read the Bible, telling them gay people are going to hell, and likening same-sex marriage to bestiality.

Bill Lucero will be removed as principal at North Bend High School, according to the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon, which had brought complaints on behalf of two students. Also, Jason Griggs, a North Bend police officer who had been assigned as school resource officer at the high school, will no longer hold that post.

North Bend School District superintendent Bill Yester, however, said Lucero is merely being reassigned. The district will "restructure" the administrative team after the end of the school year, he told Oregon newspaper The World, and he said he could not yet say where Lucero would be reassigned or who the new principal would be. But the ACLU of Oregon said clearly that Lucero will be removed from his position.

Under the settlement, the school district, located in a small community in coastal Oregon, will work with the ACLU of Oregon to develop policies to prevent future discrimination, and the district will be under the supervision of the Oregon Department of Education for five years, according to the ACLU's press release.

In addition to the complaints brought by the ACLU on behalf of students Liv Funk and Hailey Smith, the Oregon Department of Education had been investigating the district and sent a letter to North Bend school administrators outlining a pattern of anti-LGBT discrimination at the high school. A hearing had been scheduled by the Department of Education for Thursday, at which the school district was to respond to these charges, but it has now been canceled.

The settlement "is a tremendous achievement for our clients and all the current and future students of North Bend," said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon, in the press release. "It sends a clear message to everyone at the district: If you break the law by discriminating against LGBTQ students or engaging in religious proselytization at school, there are serious consequences."

Smith and Funk, who are a couple, "said the school was extremely hostile to LGBTQ students," according to the press release. "Principal Lucero repeatedly failed to respond to LGBTQ students' complaints, including when his son, who also attends the school, nearly hit the couple with his car while yelling a homophobic slur."

Students were also forced to read and recite Bible verses as a form of punishment, and at one point Griggs told Funk she was going to hell, reports Oregon's Willamette Week, citing letters she and Smith wrote that were published on the ACLU of Oregon's website. She had complained to Griggs after students hit her with a skateboard and yelled "I fucking hate homos," the paper reports.

Smith said a teacher had told her that same-sex marriage was "pretty much the same thing" as marrying a dog, and when she complained to Lucero, he said everyone was entitled to their own opinion on the matter. The teacher apologized the next day, but as Smith walked away, she heard him say, "Don't go marrying your dog."

There are other patterns of discrimination at the school, the ACLU notes. A transgender student was repeatedly harassed, including being pelted with food. One African-American student "was forced to line up with his swim teammates from lightest to darkest skin color," according to the press release, and another reported being subjected to racist slurs by the principal's son and others. The swim team also gave an exchange student from Spain a "Best Mexican" award. The settlement requires the district to develop policies to prevent and punish these types of discrimination as well.

Smith and Funk did not seek monetary damages, but they requested that the school donate $1,000 to local LGBT support group Q & A of Coos County.

"I hope this can also bring awareness to these types of issues and can show students that they are not powerless," Funk said in the ACLU press release.

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