A little over a decade ago two gay Sierra High students were spied walking on campus holding hands.
The incident prompted a complaint from a faculty member.
To make a long story short, no one was burned at the stake. It was correctly decided that the complaint about two boys engaging in PDA — public displays of affection — should be treated no differently than a girl and a boy doing the same. The faculty member, not happy, contacted the Bulletin. During the course of the conversation the teacher conceded he did not report heterosexual PDA behavior. The school staff — to its credit — tweaked how the rule was enforced to make sure gay students were treated no different than straight students.
Over the years openly gay students at Sierra have been accepted without fanfare. One was part of balloting for student royalty for the Winterfest homecoming. He was elected and was appropriately called prince and not princess. He was also escorted by a boy. No one blocked the door of the gym. No one tried to humiliate anyone. He was treated just like any other student.
Manteca High two years ago had then 16-year-old Ashton Lee inform staff he was transgender. Ashton, who had been known by Kimberly, had researched a new California law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2014 when he was placed in a girls PE after making his request to be allowed to use the boys’ restroom and locker room. After being apprised of the situation, Manteca Unified researched the law as well. It didn’t take intervention of the ACLU or gay rights groups for the district to accommodate Ashton or to go forward and make it clear to staff that similar requests would be considered on a case by case basis.
Last August, a Sierra student wore a T-shirt to school that read, “Nobody Knows I’m Lesbian.”
She was told she couldn’t wear the shirt because of the school dress code prohibiting messages of a sexual nature.
The student read the dress code and did not see it the same way mainly because the message referred to gender orientation and not anything sexual.
She got the ACLU involved. The district agreed to overhaul its dress code and even went a few steps beyond what the ACLU indicated it should do.
The district and the administrators that punished the student for the dress code violation paid a $1 settlement.
The reason the settlement wasn’t larger is very clear. Those involved did not act with malice. At worst the dress code wasn’t absolutely clear that words such as “gay” and “lesbian” while they can be sexual in certain usages aren’t about sex when they are used to identify gender orientation or express a political belief.
The four incidents are among many over the years where Manteca Unified — instead of turning a cold ear to issues involving gays, lesbians, and trangenders — has worked to resolve concerns so the students’ high school education becomes as smooth as possible.
The district’s high schools also have gay and lesbian unions and clubs that have members with gender orientations that reflect the organizations’ names as well as other students that support them.
It is against that backdrop that trustee Sam Fant raised the question at a school board meeting last month whether Manteca Unified was being active enough with Stockton-based LGBTQ groups. He said he was approached by the director of the San Joaquin Pride Center while walking in downtown Stockton after news broke that the school district had been sued by the ACLU over the shirt. The director said Manteca Unified was the only district in the county that “hasn’t been at the table actively participating in the concerns of the LGBTQ community.”
Forget the fact that was months after the actual incident and the fact Manteca Unified made the right moves after the issue was raised.
Manteca has a fairly decent history of taking an even-keel approach to issues that some like to lump together under the heading of “cultural diversity.”
District leadership needs to keep focused on education and to address valid cultural diversity issues as they arise.
Schools shouldn’t be at the vanguard of change when it comes to dealing with cultural diversity but they must reflect the law and the community. Reflecting doesn’t mean help shaping community standards.
Manteca Unified is blessed with faculties that understand it is tough being a teen regardless of one’s sexual orientation, gender identification, family life, religious beliefs, economic status, skin tone, or ethnicity.
That said, there are 3,000 employees and 23,000 students. Just like life, change in schools isn’t seamless. There are going to be speed bumps. Manteca Unified, however, has demonstrated it is quick to assess and remedy situations when they are brought to their attention regarding shifts in customs and conventions as law and common sense dictates.
There is no need for the district to be actively involved in changing community standards as that is not their mission. What they do need is to adjust to changes in a professional, deliberate and fair manner which is exactly what they are doing.