May 2nd, 2008
It would be nice to believe that school board members would defend the children they are elected to protect. Sadly, when it comes to gay students they too often choose to circle the wagons around the misbehaving principal instead.
This was the response of the Memphis School Board towards the reports of homophobic and inappropriate behavior on the part of Daphne Beasley, principal of Hollis F. Price Middle College High School.
Beasley is accused of compiling a list of potential romantic couples and then using the list to harass and discriminate against two male students who were dating. When the students and their parents could not come to resolution with the principal the ACLU became involved.
Now one would think that a principal calling a parent to out a student – and then telling that parent that she would not allow homosexuality on her campus – would result in a serious questioning of the principal’s judgment. But rather than admit the glaring inappropriateness of her behavior, the board instead sought to defend Ms. Beasley.
Eyewitness News reports that the School Board’s attorneys issued the following letter:
Memphis City Schools is committed to providing its students with the best possible learning environment. Hollis F. Price Middle College is an accelerated high school, which is located on the historically black LeMoyne-Owen College campus. Eligible students may enroll in college classes in pursuit of completing the first two years of college while attending this high school.
Because we have high school students on a college campus, we have to carefully monitor the activities of our students. We are at all times proactive in assuring that our students are provided a safe, nurturing and disciplined learning climate. Unfortunately, in fall 2007, we received numerous complaints from LeMoyne-Owen College faculty and staff that some of our student couples were involved in explicit sexual behavior in public view on the college campus.
In light of this information from LeMoyne-Owen faculty and staff, the principal of Hollis F. Price made several general announcements to the student body that this behavior would not be tolerated. Regrettably, the improper behavior continued. Therefore, the principal felt it appropriate to notify the parents of those children she knew to be involved romantically. This was done in an effort to gain the support of the parents in reinforcing the message that such behavior is in violation of Memphis City Schools’ Student Code of Conduct. The principal did not list any information other than students’ names on her personal call list, and she certainly did not specify the sexual orientation of any student. Additionally, the list was never posted publicly anywhere at the school.
It is the position of Memphis City Schools that the principal did act in an appropriate manner in order to correct a serious issue at the school and that Memphis City Schools has not subjected either of these students to discriminatory treatment.
In the coming days, we will submit a formal response to the ACLU. We look forward to working with them to amicably resolve this matter.
While this letter purports to address the situation, what is most obvious are the things that are missing.
For example, the principal admits that the two boys never behaved inappropriately or ever exhibited any public display of affection, a fact missing from their letter of defense. Nor does it discuss the hostile statements made to Nicholas’ mother. The board’s argument that Beasley appropriately outed and punished the gay students for the misbehavior by straight students is unlikely to hold up to legal scrutiny.
Further, this letter makes no effort to explain the trip denied to one student because his orientation may “embarrass” the school. It simple states that “Memphis City Schools has not subjected either of these students to discriminatory treatment”, as though stating their position makes it so.
The letter pretends that the list “certainly did not specify the sexual orientation of any student”, while ignoring that listing two boys together as a couple most certainly DOES specify their sexual orientation. Was this an attempt at a joke, or just woeful ignorance? And pretending that the principal’s office – which in the small school setting was open to teachers and students – was not “publicly anywhere” is laughable.
This letter insults the intelligence of the reader.
While this sort of double-speak is the regular and preferred form of communication for most anti-gay organizations, they need only to confuse the uninformed and those inclined towards soft thinking on issues. This letter, however, is the official response of a governmental entity and will be subjected to scrutiny. It will not fare well.
If this is the best that the Memphis School Board can do, they should start budgeting right now for a large legal settlement. They would also do well to contact outside counsel to learn of their exposure and the flimsiness of their position. I’m guessing that the Memphis School Board’s attorneys were hired because of their connections and not for their logic or their knowledge of the law.
And if this is to be indicative of the quality of support she will receive, Ms. Beasley may wish to either hire her own separate counsel, or perhaps update her resume.
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