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A POSTER designed by the Gay- Straight Alliance is in some San Leandro High School classrooms.
SAN LEANDRO — Contrary to media reports on Wednesday, no teachers at San Leandro High School have refused to post signs promoting the safety of gay students, principal Amy Furtado said Wednesday.

"I had a teacher come forward who said he was really struggling with this," Furtado said. "But no one is saying, 'I'm not going to do it.'"

Teachers and administrators reacted Wednesday to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle that said five high school teachers refused to comply with a new school district policy to display the posters in their classrooms. The report said the dissenting teachers cited religious beliefs that conflicted with homosexuality. None of them was quoted in the report.

"We were very surprised that the reporter from the Chronicle didn't do fact-checking before she ran the article," said Tom Laughlin, an art teacher and co-sponsor of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance, which designed the poster last fall.

Still, he said, "I think it's really great that we got the publicity."

The debate — or maybe, the lack of one — stems from a school district policy passed in December that requires all teachers, from kindergarten through 12th grade, to display a small sign in each classroom titled "safe space."

"This is a safe place to be who you are," it reads, below a rainbow flag with the terms, "Lesbian," "Gay," "Bisexual," "Transgender," "Questioning," and "Youth."

It continues, "This sign affirms that support and resources are available for you in this school."

As the signs go up, teachers are supposed to discuss issues of inclusiveness and understanding — and to let students know that harassing comments or gestures won't be tolerated.

The policy, designed to make gay students feel safe at school, stemmed from task forces established by Superintendent Christine Lim to examine issues of sexual-orientation bias and racism in the district. Beginning last spring, gay students spoke at teacher training sessions, relating instances when adults looked the other way when students made disparaging remarks in the classroom.

"This particular group of kids getsharassed pretty much openly," said Karl Debro, a teacher and longtime sponsor of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance. "I think a lot of it happens in the hallways or in classrooms where teachers are lax about enforcing the rules about that."

One 18-year-old student, who asked not to be named because he hasn't told his family he is gay, said that during the summer, he received an anonymous prank letter on a school letterhead mocking his sexual orientation. He hasn't been physically harassed, he said, but name-calling is not unusual.

Laughlin, who is gay, said his students have called him names as well — usually, when others can't hear. One time, he said, students pasted male underwear advertisements on his classroom door.

"I've had some tough kids over the last five years," he said.

Still, teachers say the problems in San Leandro are no worse than most other places and that the environment has improved significantly during the last two years. Laughlin noted that the school's Gay-Straight Alliance group, which works to promote understanding and awareness, has grown from about two students last year to 20 this year.

San Leandro Unified is headed in an entirely different direction from what it was in 1997, when district officials — many of whom have since left — ordered Debro to halt class discussions of racism and the harassment of gay students. That year, Debro filed a civil rights suit against the district, citing a violation of First Amendment rights and racial discrimination.

He won. As part of the ensuing resolution reached in 2002, the school district agreed to undergo training on issues of sexual orientation and racism. Lim made such matters a priority when she came to the district from Berkeley in 2003, said Cindy Cathey, San Leandro's assistant superintendent for educational services.

Cathey said when one of the district's safe schools task forces suggested it be a district policy for the poster to go up in every classroom, no one raised concerns. "It was such a non-issue," she said.

Elementary and middle school teachers are supposed to move forward with the policy within about three weeks. High school teachers, who received the posters during a three-hour training on Monday, have a week to do so.

It remains to be seen whether all of the teachers will comply with the district's mandate and how the discussions will be received by the students. Cathey noted that kindergarten and first-grade teachers are still figuring out exactly how to frame the subject with the district's youngest students. But Cathey and Furtado stressed that those struggling with the subject have been encouraged to discuss it with them.

"You have to have an honest conversation, or you're never going to get anywhere," Furtado said.

Furtado said that Bob Volpa, a business teacher who was quoted in the Chronicle saying he would not put up the posters, felt that his views were mischaracterized in the story. First thing Wednesday morning, she said, he came into her office.

"He said, 'Give me the posters. I'm totally behind this,'" Furtado said.

Katy Murphy covers education in Hayward, Castro Valley, San Leandro and San Lorenzo. Call her at (510) 293-2479 or E-mail

kmurphy@dailyreviewonline.com.harassed pretty much openly," said Karl Debro, a teacher and longtime sponsor of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance. "I think a lot of it happens in the hallways or in classrooms where teachers are lax about enforcing the rules about that."

One 18-year-old student, who asked not to be named because he hasn't told his family he is gay, said that during the summer, he received an anonymous prank letter on a school letterhead mocking his sexual orientation. He hasn't been physically harassed, he said, but name-calling is not unusual.

Laughlin, who is gay, said his students have called him names as well — usually, when others can't hear. One time, he said, students pasted male underwear advertisements on his classroom door.

"I've had some tough kids over the last five years," he said.

Still, teachers say the problems in San Leandro are no worse than most other places and that the environment has improved significantly during the last two years. Laughlin noted that the school's Gay-Straight Alliance group, which works to promote understanding and awareness, has grown from about two students last year to 20 this year.

San Leandro Unified is headed in an entirely different direction from what it was in 1997, when district officials — many of whom have since left — ordered Debro to halt class discussions of racism and the harassment of gay students. That year, Debro filed a civil rights suit against the district, citing a violation of First Amendment rights and racial discrimination.

He won. As part of the ensuing resolution reached in 2002, the school district agreed to undergo training on issues of sexual orientation and racism. Lim made such matters a priority when she came to the district from Berkeley in 2003, said Cindy Cathey, San Leandro's assistant superintendent for educational services.

Cathey said when one of the district's safe schools task forces suggested it be a district policy for the poster to go up in every classroom, no one raised concerns. "It was such a non-issue," she said.

Elementary and middle school teachers are supposed to move forward with the policy within about three weeks. High school teachers, who received the posters during a three-hour training on Monday, have a week to do so.

It remains to be seen whether all of the teachers will comply with the district's mandate and how the discussions will be received by the students. Cathey noted that kindergarten and first-grade teachers are still figuring out exactly how to frame the subject with the district's youngest students. But Cathey and Furtado stressed that those struggling with the subject have been encouraged to discuss it with them.

"You have to have an honest conversation, or you're never going to get anywhere," Furtado said.

Furtado said that Bob Volpa, a business teacher who was quoted in the Chronicle saying he would not put up the posters, felt that his views were mischaracterized in the story. First thing Wednesday morning, she said, he came into her office.

"He said, 'Give me the posters. I'm totally behind this,'" Furtado said.

Katy Murphy covers education in Hayward, Castro Valley, San Leandro and San Lorenzo. Call her at (510) 293-2479 or E-mail

kmurphy@dailyreviewonline.com.