Lewiston Sun-Journal

Lewiston, Maine

Tuesday February 25, 1997

Oxford Hills HS students get crash course in civil rights law

"Many students at OHHS have no tolerance for those they believe are homosexual, Principal Philip Blood said following Monday's mandatory classes on Maine civil rights law.

The crash course was prompted by three separate incidents of "gay bashing" and one of racial harassment involving high school students in the past eight months. The two students charged in the latest cases this month have been suspended and are facing expulsion, school officials said.

"This has to have an impact on the school. We aren't going to tolerate this" kind of discriminatory behavior by students toward other students, Blood said. Now that the issue is being forced to the fore, Blood predicts some students will test officials and will be punished.

Members of the state AG's Office and local and state police led the morning meetings to explain laws prohibiting harasmment and discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, nd other aspects of people's lives. They also spelled out the consequences of violating the laws."

Synopsis of rest of article: Each of the 1000 students was required to attend 1/30 sessions. Blood said it became clear on Monday that many students don't tolerate others they believe are gay or lesbian, based on opinions voiced by the students during the sessions. Tolerance and community acceptance were also covered. "Until there's acceptance and understanding of people who are homosexual, until that's OK for students to tolerate, there is "too much fear" both for victims and violators, " Blood said.

"He acknowledged that for every lesson taught by educators....on tolerance among students, there are others learned outside of school that may diminish SAD 17's emphasis on honoring civil rights. "Althought these negative influences within the community and families cannot be controlled, we can control the environment that exists within the school," he said, "and we can talk about what we can allow and cannot allow."

"Today doesn't solve anything but it does raise understanding and awareness and focuses on preserving and protecting civil rights. And teachers will continue holding the torch of tolerance every day, so that students can feel safe," Blood said.

"Since Oct., the district has been working on a pilot program, sponsored by the AG's office, involving student Civil Rights Teams at OHHS and OH Middle School. Blood said many students in Monday's classes didn't know about the teams, which comfort and protect victims. The teams liten to studnts and report harmful activity to advisers, who notify police. Authorities believe hate crime victims may find it easier to talk with peers than teachers and counselors.

Police "ought to be commended for being aggressive" in investigating reports of hate crimes, Blood said, stressing SAD 17 staff members are also prepared to combat the problem.

Blood and Asst AG Stephen Wessler organized the classes."