Knox County school board discusses wording changes to harassment policies

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Knox County school board members talked Monday about removing a few words from their current policies. The controversial change, if passed, would do away with protective language for LGBT students and staff.

The current policy on harassment of students says Knox County schools does not tolerate harassment for any reason on the basis of “actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, etc.” The school board is discussing changing this statement to simply say “on the basis of sex.”

Many people attended Monday night’s work session, some with petitions to try to keep any changes from being made.

Crystal Yamazaki’s 7-year-old daughter Junko is transgender. She worries the policy could be changing.

“I want her to be safe in school. I want her to not have to be scared that someone’s going to bully her. I want her to not worry that someone’s going to follow her and hurt her,” she said.

The student harassment policy was drawn up in 2011. The same words were added to the employee policy in 2012.

Junko Yamazuki

“it showed that we were, we thought of the future of our students,” said Tanya T. Coats, president of the Knox County Education Association.

Board member Jennifer Owen said the policies are missing one word, sex, which by federal standards must be listed. She says they can’t protect children in Knox County Schools with just the current language.

“I know that we need to be careful about how we treat others, and we do want to make sure that we’re a safe community. In doing so, it shouldn’t hurt for us to keep the verbage that’s worked thus far,” said Coats.

Owen says she’s written an amendment so that if the wording is taken out, sex will cover anything related to gender, sexual orientation or perception of such.

“First of all it sends a message to the community that you’re not worth protecting,” said Yamazaki.

Knox County Schools says they do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of students or employees for any reason. They say proposed changes would not limit those protections, but some are still worried.

“It could be that we open the gates for harassment of people and people being bullied,” said Coats.

“Having to send her to school every day to spend time with people who I know don’t accept her identity, don’t respect her, that’s very difficult for me as a mom,” said Yamazaki.

Board member Patti Bounds says the policy is no different from any other. They review guidelines every one to two years and these two items were in line to be reviewed as a way to be more closely aligned to state law. Bounds says it was not an attempt to weaken or take away protections.

School board members are taking a final vote on Wednesday.

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