You may recall last month's backlash facing middle Tennessee's Rutherford County Board of Education and its decision to remove all of GLSEN's 'Safe Space' posters from classrooms on the grounds that the poster's content was too 'political' and 'sexual' because it contained the words 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.'
With both the state and national American Civil Liberties Union having spoken out against the homophobic policy, the school board held a meeting Wednesday night to gage public opinion on the issue and discuss a potential review of the policy. The Daily News Journal reports board members told the standing-room-only crowd at the meeting that they will study the district's anti-bullying policy but took no further action.
"We have a desire to protect the interests of all students in our school system," said Don Odom (pictured), director of Rutherford County Schools. "Our staff attorney, Jeff Reed, will look at the policy to see if there are changes to be made in order to make (the policies) more inclusive."
The teacher from whose classroom the poster was removed, Allen Nichols, spoke at the meeting and said that the issue here is more than just anti-bullying resources for students. At stake are the free speech rights of students, a notion that senior Bethany Howard appreciated was being kept in mind.
"It means so much to me that Mr. Nichols has taken a stand for student speech," Howard said. "This is a very charged issue, and it's not often that someone takes a stand like he has. And I've never heard him talk about his personal beliefs on politics, religion or any social issues."
Others at the meeting, however, spoke out against Nichols and the poster. Penny Johnson, director for Parents for Truth in Education, said she thought the posters unfairly privileged one group of students over others.
"We have to treat all children from all aspects equally and fairly," said Johnson. "By putting a special poster up for specific group in that area, you're giving them special treatment regarding bullying."
Considering LGBT teens are disproportionately targeted for bullying in schools, I wouldn't exactly consider the poster "special treatment." 88% of LGBT students in Tennessee have been verbally harassed and 43% have been physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN's "2011 Tennessee State Snapshot"