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Portland Family Says The Boy Scouts Of America Should NOT Be Allowed To Recruit In Our Public Schools or Use School Facilities As Long As It Discriminates Against Gay and Atheist Children And Adults

September 15, 2003
Board of Trustees &
Superintendent Jim Scherzinger
Portland Public Schools
501 N. Dixon Street
Portland, OR 97227

RE: This is a formal complaint under Board Policy 4.50.030-P Student/Parent Complaint Procedure.

Dear School Board Members and Superintendent Jim Scherzinger:

My partner, Mitchell A. Zahn and I are the parents of two sons that attend Jim Bridger Elementary School's Creative Science School (hereafter, Bridger/CSS). On Friday, September 5, 2003, my third grade son brought home recruitment literature published by the Boy Scouts of America (hereafter, BSA) that was in his Friday folder. The literature is a sharp-looking, full-color, 11-page, piece that outlines the various BSA programs. Among other things, it states that the BSA "is a values-based organization." It also states that Scouts " show reverence to their God". It also contains the BSA oath where Scouts swear to "To keep [themselves] morally straight."

Interestingly, my other son who is developmentally disabled and also attends the fourth grade at Bridger/CSS, received the same literature in his Friday folder and, knowing that the BSA is a group that discriminates against gay families, he threw it in the trash at school. He also saw it displayed on tables in the hallways throughout the school. He came home feeling quite agitated, threatened and upset about having received it and about seeing it throughout the school.

I immediately informed our principal, Lynn Blevens, that the materials came home and expressed my displeasure that she would allow literature to be distributed at the school by an organization that discriminates against gay families like our own. She apologized for allowing it to come home in the Friday folders citing lack of experience. She also told me she was very busy, it being her first week as a principal and, that she did not
have a chance to check the Friday folders to see what went home. She also told me the BSA literature was District approved literature. I informed her that it was my understanding that it was the principal's discretion
as to whether or not to distribute the BSA literature. She told me that she did not know that. She sounded sympathetic and sincere and again apologized.

I thought the matter was settled. However, on the morning of Tuesday, September 9, 2003, I saw the BSA literature displayed on a table in the hall outside of a first grade classroom at school. I called the principal and once again requested that the BSA material not be made available at the school. She refused saying she was instructed by her supervisor (I believe Jean Fischer) that the District approves of leaving BSA materials out on tables. I told her that I was disappointed by her decision. I also told her that I felt that the District's own policies spoke to the contrary. She stuck by her decision to allow the literature to be displayed; she again apologized for allowing it to come home in the Friday folders.

I told her that her and PPS' decision to allow the BSA activities at Bridger/CSS creates a hostile educational environment for my children and constitutes harassment. I then requested that she inform me of the District's process by which I could file a harassment complaint. She told me she would contact the District's General Counsel, Jolee Patterson, to ascertain the process.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 10, 2003, I again went to the principal to express my disappointment about her and PPS' decision and to ask her to change her mind. She again refused and told me the District approved the BSA literature.

Before school on Thursday, September 11, 2003, my partner instructed the principal that no one was to question or talk to our children about the BSA or this matter without our permission. She assured him that no one would. However, later that day my fourth grade son came home from school very angry, confused and upset. A student harassed him about our family's feelings about the BSA. He then had an emotional "melt down" and curled up in a fetal position and sobbed hysterically. The event lasted about an hour.

On Friday, September 12, 2003, I called the principal and informed her what happened. I asked her to keep a close eye on my son. She agreed. Later that day she gave me Board Policies 4.30.060-P Harassment and
Bullying Policy and 4.50.030 Student/Parent Complaint Procedure. The BSA literature is still available at the school.

Open house will be on October 2, 2003, and I wonder if the BSA will set up a recruitment table as it has in years past. Will they?

The district's inaction related to this matter, its approval of, and its exposure of my children to, BSA activity on campus is unacceptable, discriminatory, exclusionary and harassing. It also subjects my children to a hostile educational environment and threatens their academic achievement and psychological well-being.

In addition to the damage to our children, PPS' involvement with BSA activities on campus is a direct violation of District policies as follows:

PPS Board Policies and Administrative Directives Violated

0.10.010-P Strategic Plan

Among the areas of contravention with PPS' Strategic Plan are:

1) PPS Mission:

"The mission of Portland Public Schools is to support all students in achieving their very highest educational and personal potential, to inspire in them an enduring love for learning, and to prepare them to contribute as citizens of a diverse, multicultural, and international community."

2) Core Values:

  • Every human being has intrinsic value.
  • Creating trusting relationships, working together and building on the strengths of our diversity are essential for a strong community.
  • When individuals have equitable and just access to opportunities and have satisfied basic needs, they can realize their full potential and contribute to the community.
  • Adult behavior is a powerful teacher for young people.

3) Strategies:

We will create a system-wide culture that reflects an ethic of service, excellence and respect.

We will create partnerships with stakeholders to achieve our strategic objectives and mission.

1.80.020-P Nondiscrimination

The following is PPS' non-discrimination policy:

"PPS recognizes the diversity and worth of all individuals and groups and their roles in society. All individuals and groups shall be treated with fairness in all activities, programs and operations, without regard to age, color, creed, disability, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. This standard applies to all Board policies and administrative directives."

3.30.010-P Community Use of School Buildings and Facilities

This rental policy explicitly includes the BSA and indicates which groups qualify for a waiver of rental charges in the District:

"Non profit and civic groups indirectly associated with the district that serve students without charge and hold meetings on school days prior to 6:00 p.m. Examples include Boy Scouts"

3.30.020-P Limitations on Use of Facilities and Grounds - All Groups or Individuals

This policy lists activities that are prohibited on District facilities. It also contrasts the latter policy in regard to the BSA. Section (9) Discriminating Admissions states the following:

"Any activities to which admission may be prohibited on the basis of age, color, creed, disability, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation, shall not be conducted in the schools."

3.30.035-AD Distribution of Materials in Schools by Non-school Groups

This policy is as follows:

"Materials with a partisan or advocacy position on political, religious, or social issues may not be distributed in the schools by non-school groups or individuals."

6.10.010-P Student Achievement Policy

In this policy the PPS Board "sets out principles and directs the Superintendent to develop detailed strategies and directives that align with and accomplish these principles." Among these principles is principle 10:

"All schools shall create a welcoming, inclusive, safe and respectful environment where positive relationships among students, staff and parents are valued as important components in academic success and positive citizenship."

The Discriminatory Practices and Policies of the BSA

The BSA has a well known partisan and advocacy position on religion and sexual orientation; there is no issue that you have to take an oath to God and morally straight means heterosexual. The BSA is an organization that
has a clear and very public record of discriminating against gay youths and gay families as well as youths and families that do not "have personal values based on religious concepts."

PPS Failed and Is Causing Harm to my Children and my Family

It is reprehensible and shameful that PPS has chosen to marginalize people and families based on sexual orientation and religion and aligns itself with, subsidizes and supports a bigoted, exclusionary and discriminatory organization. Not only is it shameful but also it is incongruent with many of the District's own Board Policies and Administrative Directives as well as its mission and strategic plan. Most importantly, this action hurts my children. When the BSA conducts activities in school my children are left behind.

Part of the PPS mission is "to prepare [students] to contribute as citizens of a diverse, multicultural, and international community." By supporting the BSA and its discriminatory practices the district is failing its mission and my children in this regard.

Moreover, PPS' support of the BSA also contrasts the District's core values as outlined in its Strategic Plan. The District's Strategic Plan "presents a framework of core values, strategic objectives and strategies to guide its efforts in fulfilling its mission." Is this true? If so, why were the District core values overlooked when decisions were made about exposing my children to the BSA activities at school?

All of the above core values speak against supporting the activities of the BSA in the District. Are they meaningless? It seems they are in relationship to my children and my family. The District's support of the BSA creates untrusting relationships and flies in the face of building on the strengths of diversity. Moreover, the BSA is exclusionary and doesn't allow my kids and our family to have access to the opportunities it provides-it is only welcoming to heterosexual families. The behavior of the adults that run the BSA organization and those who have made decisions about allowing them a platform in the District are powerful teachers to my children-they are great role models for bigotry, intolerance, marginalization and exclusion!

Clearly, the District is not honoring its strategy to "create a system-wide culture that reflects an ethic ofrespect" either. Allowing an intolerant organization such as the BSA to distribute literature, recruit and meet on district campuses (rent-free) does nothing to further the creation of a system-wide culture of respect.

How welcome, included and safe do you think my children, gay youths and other gay families like mine in the district feel when they receive BSA literature from school; see BSA literature placed at tables throughout schools; face the BSA recruitment efforts at open houses; and see BSA meetings on campuses-all with the District's sanction and subsidized with taxpayer dollars?

They feel unwelcome, unsafe and excluded in a disrespectful environment. They also feel marginalized-especially when policies, directives and plans speak to the contrary.

While talking of honoring the diversity of the community, PPS' actions around the issue of the Boy Scouts of America ring hollow among members of my family as well as in the sexual minority community and many others. It is inconceivable that the District chooses to marginalize and discriminate against my children, my family and others like it by allowing exceptions to a prejudiced organization such as the BSA. Would you allow it if the
BSA's discrimination was directed at any other class, such as: color, creed, disability, marital status, national origin or race? I think not.

It is intolerable and unacceptable that my children be subjected to the efforts of the BSA at school. Their presence creates a hostile learning environment for my children and has no place at Bridger Elementary or
anywhere else in the district.

I respectfully request that PPS end the harassment of my children and correct the negative educational environment to which they have been subjected by severing all ties with the BSA immediately. It is the mission of PPS to provide my children with a safe, respectful, comfortable and inclusive environment in which to learn-free of the bigotry, homophobia and exclusion the BSA have adeptly come to represent.

Why is PPS subjecting my children to the captivating endeavors of the BSA at school? The District must comply with its own Board policies. Furthermore, the District must enact any other policies that may be needed to prevent discrimination and to provide an equal learning environment to all children.


Steven P. Wagenhoffer

Cc: Andrea Meyer, American Civil Liberties Union, Portland Chapter
American Civil Liberties Union Gay and Lesbian Rights Project, N.Y.
Lambda Legal Defense Fund, West Coast Division
Janet Miller, Juvenile Rights Project
Bonnie Tinker, Love Makes a Family, Inc.
Sexual Minorities Parent Advisory Group (SMPAG)
Joyce Liljholm, Oregon Safe Schools and Community Coalition
Jenny Laferriere, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
Faith Wolfson , Sexual Minorities and Community Outraged by Unfair
Treatment in Schools (S.C.O.U.T.S.) Larry Smith, Gay, Lesbian and Straight
Education Network (GLSEN)
Linda Treager, The Equity Foundation
Roey Thorpe, Basic Rights Oregon
Amalia Garcon-Gaddie, Neighborhood Resource Center (formerly Metropolitan
Human Rights Commission)
Daniel Pitasky, New Avenues for Youth
Ann Hinds, Outside In
Sexaual Minorities Youth Recreation Center
Trish Parks & Ray Johnson, Oregon Education Association Gay and Lesbian
Caucus Ann Nice, Portland Association of Teachers Dee Simmons, Oregon
Education Association/PAT Commissioner Diane Linn, Multnomah County
Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey, Multnomah County
Commissioner Serena Cruz, Multnomah County
Commissioner Lisa Naito, Multnomah County
Commissioner Lonnie Roberts, Multnomah County
Mayor Vera Katz, City of Portland
Councilor Jim Francesconi, City of Portland
Councilor Dan Saltzman, City of Portland
Councilor Erik Sten, City of Portland
Councilor Randy Leonard, City of Portland
Councilor Gary Blackmer, City of Portland
State Superintendent Susan Castillo, Oregon Department of Education
Lynn Blevens, Bridger/Creative Science School

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