SHELBY, N.C. — Grassroots advocates with Neighbors for Equality say Cleveland County Schools has yet to update several anti-harassment policies in order to bring them into line with a statewide anti-bullying mandate signed into law in 2009.
Collyn Warner, a local activist with the group, says the school district has updated only one of its policies, adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, among other characteristics, as outlined in enumerated protections guaranteed by the 2009 School Violence Prevention Act.
Seven other policies regulating harassment, equal education opportunities, internet use, student publications and student groups do not yet include similar langauge.
Click here to see a full breakdown of Cleveland County Schools policies under review by Neighbors for Equality including their suggestions for amendments.
Warner says consistency across the district’s policy manual are important for maintaining safer schools.
“If we are going to say we’re dedicated to creating safe spaces for our students, then we need to take the time to update all of our policies and show students, employees and the community a clear and consistent image of what exactly you’ll consider to be harassment,” she said.
Neighbors for Equality was established during the statewide campaigns on the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment barring recognition of same-sex marriages and other relationships. The amendment passed 61-39 percent on May 8. Warner said the group is now turning its focus to safe schools and communities.
In addition to seeing school policies and procedures amended, Warner wants local schools to support the creation of gay-straight alliances or other student groups for LGBT youth.
“Gay-straight alliances are necessary,” she said. “We need to create places where kids can come out or just have a place where they can talk with people. I’d love to see every high school in Cleveland County and across North Carolina have a gay-straight alliance.”
She added, “The first step is making sure policies are updated so we can move from policy to working on how we can make it all a reality in schools.”
Warner has already initiated conversations with several school board members. So far, dialogue has been positive. Warner, who graduated from the district in 2007, said a recent conversation with a school board member and her former school principal also went well.
Representatives from Neighbors for Equality are planning on speaking to the Cleveland County Board of Education at their next meeting on July 23. The board meets that day at 7 p.m. at the Office of School Readiness, 124 S. Post Rd., Shelby, NC, 28152. Citizens can speak during the public comment period or contact the entire board of education via email at CCSBOE@clevelandcountyschools.org.