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ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage School Board on Monday unanimously approved a new policy that bans harassment of students and employees due to their sexual orientation.
About 20 speakers voiced overwhelming support for the policy, including two Bartlett High School seniors who told the board that angry fellow students have yelled names at them while school staffers stood by and did nothing.
"Every day was horrible," said Aaron Daugherty, 17, who said he is gay.
"One of the most difficult things I experienced was to be within earshot of adults and watch their failure to act," said Timothy Aguilar, who said he is bisexual.
Dimond High teacher Susan Derrera said a brief walk down a school hallway will show that students commonly call others names such as "homo" and "fag."
No one spoke against making the policy change.
The board votes on policy changes twice. The issue is expected to be up for a vote again June 25.
An existing district policy prohibits harassment overall and lists specific grounds, such as race, age and national origin. The list does not include sexual orientation.
The district's Student Advisory Board, made up of students from around Anchorage, recommended the change. The policy change will make schools safer, said Hans Bernard, a student board member and recent Chugiak High graduate.
Superintendent Carol Comeau said she did not see the need for specific language until January, when two young men told her about being harassed and not getting support from school staffers. She has since talked with other students and staffers about harassment, she said.
"By being silent, there is a silent message of avoidance rather than dealing with these issues," Comeau said. "This additional language is critically needed."
Students or staff members who violate the policy would be subject to discipline.
District employee contracts and the Alaska teachers code of conduct already contain language prohibiting harassment due to sexual orientation.