Recent graffiti targeting a gay teacher has again brought calls for the San Ramon Valley school district to better address such incidents.
But, as seen here and elsewhere, there is no easy answer on how to do that. Such discussion often prompts strong feelings that the subject matter is inappropriate for schools, and that it's a promotion of homosexuality.
This month, a gay physical education teacher at Rancho Romero Elementary in Alamo returned from winter break to find hateful remarks about her sexuality written on an equipment storage shed.
The school board has asked the district's human resources department to stay on top of the issue and for district staff members to report back on how such instances are handled.
But anti-gay bullying is not a new issue for the district, which saw heated school board meetings on how to address the issue after a 2001 incident, when a teacher at Charlotte Wood Middle School in Danville was the target of anti-gay remarks by students on a website.
Now, just as in 2001, there are strong feelings against the district's involvement.
"The district has a long history of homosexual activism," said Mike Arata, a Danville resident and frequent critic of the district on tax measures and other issues, and who has taken part in protests of "inappropriate" subject matter at district schools.
"The business of schools is knowledge and skills, not intervention or beliefs," he said.
Arata, who taught in public and private schools in Cincinnati, doesn't think anyone should be the victim of bullying or other attacks. But he said anti-bullying should be taught generally, with no acceptance of bullying of anyone, rather than what he calls promoting acceptance of gays.
Gay rights advocates say the opposite.
"If you're not willing to talk about it, it's not going to be addressed adequately," said Daryl Presgraves, a spokesman for the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. He said it is about being respectful of others, no matter one's views.
Presgraves said while California is one of 10 states that have policies specifically protecting gays in schools, districts need to enforce the policies and provide training on the issue. He agrees materials should be age appropriate, but said to not address it at all is ignoring the problem. For example, elementary students do use "gay" or other anti-homosexual terms as a general negative description. He said unlike efforts to teach about accepting other ethnic groups and religions, doing the same for gays brings opposition.
"When you talk about students who are gay, all of a sudden you see opposition groups who say it is inappropriate to teach about gay bullying," he said.
As for the district, officials say they have made strides in the past decade, some of which were sparked by the Charlotte Wood Middle School incident, and are doing a good job. Efforts include anti-bullying videos and "climate committees" of staff, students and parents at both the district level and all middle schools and high schools to identify issues and figure out how to deal with them. But with 30,000 students and 3,000 employees, incidents are bound to happen.
"Some people's attitudes are so entrenched that it's hard to change," said district spokesman Terry Koehne. He said the district's only interest is providing a safe environment for all students, and that it has nothing to do with promoting homosexuality.
"I don't know if you can ever (stop) people from intimidation or harassing other people," he said. "All you can do is try to chip away at that."
Eric Louie covers San Ramon Valley education. Contact him at 925-847-2123.