ACLU alleges gay students harassed at San Bernardino County high school

An empty classroom.
An empty classroom.
James F Clay/Flickr

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California on Monday demanded that San Bernardino County school district officials step in to end discrimination against gay students by teachers and administrators at a district high school.
In an 11-page letter to Hesperia Unified School District Interim Superintendent David McLaughlin, the ACLU and law firm Nixon Peabody alleged that Sultana High School administrators foster a hostile and harassing climate for gay students.
Teachers and administrators have made discriminatory comments about gay people, and have not stepped in to stop bullying by students, the letter stated.
In one alleged incident, a teacher told a student who commented that he did not have a valentine on Valentine's Day that it was "because you're gay and nobody wants to be with you."
In another allegation, an administrator referred to a gay student's campaign for homecoming queen as a "joke." Another teacher allegedly told a student to "take the gay headband off."
The ACLU said girls were told they must wear dresses to the prom and boys tuxedos, and students were instructed to wear gender-specific attire for their yearbook photos, in violation of state and federal laws.
Additionally, administrators censored the Gay Straight Alliance's public announcements, flyers and activities such as movie screenings, the group said.
The ACLU noted that a gay teacher, who was adviser to the student club, was told she was "a bad fit" after she helped a student file a complaint against a teacher and her contract was not renewed.
Interim Superintendent David McLaughlin said he had just received the letter and could not comment on specifics, but was returning from spring break to lead an investigation by the district and its attorneys.
"These allegations are deeply concerning and they have my full and focused attention," McLaughlin said in a statement Monday. "I will personally oversee the review of all policies and practices that strive to ensure that all staff and students can attend school in a safe, welcoming and nurturing environment."
The ACLU lawyers want written assurances from the district by March 25 that discrimination will end at the school.
Kyle Bodda, president of the Sultana Gay Straight Alliance, said the atmosphere has proven distracting to learning.
"All students should feel safe and free to be themselves at school," Bodda said. "I'm hopeful the administration does the right thing and creates a safe environment where we can be ourselves without fear of being harassed."