The Orange County Equality Coalition, founded to fight for gay marriage after California passed Proposition 8 in 2008, has sued the California Department of Education and its Office of Equal Opportunity, claiming that those agencies are not protecting LGBT students. The lawsuit states that those offices have not enforced state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination.
The suit names three 2013 cases in its claim, according to the Orange County Register, which also mentions that the agencies are supposed to resolve claims in 60 days:
- Newport-Mesa Unified School District denied a discrimination claim that students desiring to attend Diversity Week presentations by the group Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbian and Gays had to obtain permission slips from their parents;
- Capistrano Unified School District denied a claim that school board members verbally insulted the LGBT community and gave a reduced time for LGBT representatives to speak to the board;
- Capistrano Unified denied a claim that it ignored the FAIR Education Act, which stated in 2012 that the social sciences curriculum teach about LGBT contribution to California and U.S. history.
The lawsuit includes the statement from the California State Auditor in 2013 that the Office of Equal Opportunity had not monitored compliance with state discrimination and bullying laws for four years.
Karyl Ketchum, a Cal State Fullerton researcher who co-chairs the coalition’s School Compliance Task Force, snapped, “Who is looking out for these kids? At the state level, there is nobody.” She said she thought it was possible that the Office of Equal Opportunity had never ruled in favor of an LGBT student alleging discrimination.
Ketchim added that she and fellow coalition member Thomas J. Peterson met with Sharon Felix-Rochon, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, and the results of the meeting left them “astonished” and “despondent.” Ketchum claimed they were told there were dozens of appeals of complaints about gender or sexual identity since 2012 in the past two years, and complained, “It was just like file folders on the desk, all over, every surface.”
Bill Ainsworth, director of communications for the Department of Education, said that the Office of Equal Opportunity wants three more investigators “as part of our efforts to improve our performance,” adding, “Be assured that the California Department of Education places a top priority on its role in maintaining a safe learning environment that allows students to thrive. All California students deserve to attend schools without fear of bullying or discrimination in any form.”
In response to a state audit, State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, offered legislation months ago to expedite methods for addressing bullying and discrimination incidents in public schools. Ketchum asserts that the audit has yet to be finished; she said that the Office of Equal Opportunity told her coalition that no appeals of cases involving LGBT students had been investigated, and the office had never ruled in favor of a student with a claim.
Ketchum has been at odds with Corona Del Mar High School for years; in 2009, her daughter, who was starring the school’s production of the musical Rent, enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit alleging that some of the school’s varsity athletes posted a video depicting them threatening to rape and kill her. Ketchum claimed she had been involved with LGBT issues before that incident.