Conservative-backed N.C. charter school changes anti-gay policy

WAKE FOREST, N.C. — One of the state’s oldest and largest charter schools, backed by a conservative donor and activist, has changed a policy that once prohibited students from promoting or affirming LGBTQ people or causes.

Students and alumni at Franklin Academy, who say the school is hostile to LGBTQ students, began calling attention to the policy online last week.

The old policy stated: “promotion, affirmation or discussion of behaviors associated with the terms, ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity,’ including homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism, are expressly prohibited.”

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After mounting pressure, the handbook’s wording revised to say that “harassment on the basis of affirmation or discussion of behaviors associated with the terms, ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity,’ including homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism, are expressly prohibited.”

A similar policy remains unchanged at Thales Academy, a network of private schools. Both Franklin and Thales are backed by conservative donor and activist Bob Luddy, a Raleigh businessman.

“The ‘Prohibition of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Policy’ in our 2018-19 handbooks is reflective of the belief of our school,” Denise Kent, Franklin Academy’s head administrator, said in a statement. “One line in this policy was recently clarified when it was brought to our attention that if an individual only reads that line out of context of the entire policy it can be misinterpreted and misconstrued.

“The line has been revised, for clarity, in order to prevent any further misrepresentation of the intent of this policy. We believe strongly in the maintenance of a dedicated learning environment in which students and staff feel safe.

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“We appreciate those who brought this possible misinterpretation to our attention.”

Students, alumni and even former teachers aren’t buying the school’s claim that the policy was a “mistake.” They say the school is unsafe for LGBTQ students.

Charter schools and private schools receiving taxpayer funds through the state’s voucher program are not bound by the same state laws which prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination and harassment. Both are able to deny admission to LGBTQ students or, as in the case of Franklin and Thames academies, ban the “promotion” or even discussion of LGBTQ people or topics.

Efforts to extend anti-bullying and non-discrimination laws to charter schools and private schools has been actively opposed by state Republican lawmakers. In 2014, they stripped out a measure backed by openly gay then-House Rep. Marcus Brandon extending anti-bullying protections to charter schools.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.