Las Vegas Sun

July 30, 2014

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Gay student asks for aid in harassment policy

One student and a handful of residents have asked the Clark County School District to include protection for students' sexual orientation within the language of a proposed harassment policy.

The three-page document prohibits attacks directed at a student's race, color, age, creed, religion, national origin, handicap and marital or parental status.

Public comment at Tuesday night's School Board meeting, however, pointed out that a student's sexual identity is an equally valid concern and a target for belittling and violence.

"I need protection as much as (other students) do," said Alex Di Cotignano, a 10th-grader at Chaparral High School.

Standing alongside his father outside the meeting room, Di Cotignano described being beaten and kicked in the school bathroom last year because he is gay. He also said teachers have talked about him behind his back, and have accused him of "turning the other students gay."

"I went to the prom last year and I took my boyfriend," Di Cotignano said. "One teacher warned me not to dance with him, not to hold hands, and for us to go separately in limousines, not together. The students at school are totally supportive. It's the teachers that have harassed me."

Gary Peck, director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Nevada, said the proposal is "terribly misguided ... and tramples on a person's First Amendment rights."

"The ACLU is deeply and abidingly dedicated to fighting bigotry," Peck said. "The school board needs to address the problems, not the symptoms of the problems."

Peck suggested the board require sensitivity training throughout the district, diversify the faculty and modify the curriculum to address harassment issues.

"We do not want people picking and choosing who they can pick on," said Lee Plotkin, columnist for the Las Vegas Q Tribe, a gay newspaper distributed in Las Vegas.

Plotkin said omitting sexual orientation from the proposed policy's language would permit opportunities for harassment and, ultimately, violence. He plans to obtain copies of other schools' sexual harassment policies to help the district develop an effective policy for Clark County.

"The inclusion of sexual orientation (in the policy) is not an endorsement," Plotkin said."The writing is on the wall. It's on the bathroom wall. We need to be specific with the language. We don't need to water it down."

Board member Judy Witt, who sits on the four-member committee along with members Lois Tarkanian, Mary Beth Scow, and Ruth Johnson, questioned whether including a reference to sexual orientation would be sufficient. Witt explained that neither obese nor anorexic students are specifically identified in the language and also face harassment.

Sexual jokes, drawings, pictures and gestures are prohibited in the plan, as is teasing students about being enrolled in predominantly single-sex classes, spreading sexual rumors, and making derogatory comments.

Tarkanian requested the proposed regulation be continued for discussion at the Jan. 13 meeting.

The proposal must also meet board approval before it can become district policy.

"I was pleasantly surprised by the receptiveness of the committee members to what was suggested," Plotkin said after the meeting. "This is the same school district that denied students the chance to see the AIDS exhibit at the Lied Museum."

The School Board voted in February 1996 to ban students from visiting the Lied Discovery Children's Museum's AIDS display on school-sanctioned field trips. After receiving much negative publicity, the board reversed its decision, requiring outside funding to pay for the field trip and parental permission.

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