On Aug. 25, Joe Quigley, an Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher, was reinstated. Oklahoma County District Judge Barbara Swinton ruled that he had been wrongfully terminated.
Quigley has been prominent over the last decade in advocating for the legal protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies of the Oklahoma City Public Schools. I must disclose that I, too, have repeatedly appeared before the school board advocating for the same and was present at the meeting when Quigley was fired last May.
In 2006, both the student handbook and student discipline committees concluded that protections based upon sexual orientation ought to be included in the policies of the district. The Student Code of Conduct, including these protections, was presented to the board at the Oct. 2, 2006, meeting. The minutes record no discussion, debate or vote. As was the procedure of the board, the report was heard and accepted.
On Oct. 18, the handbook, including the Student Code of Conduct, was published online, and word spread quickly about the changes. When the press contacted the district, almost immediately the handbook was pulled from the Web site.
The hard copy of the handbook that was subsequently sent out did not include language protecting students based on sexual orientation.
Quigley was one of a number of citizens, including myself, who appeared before the board on Nov. 6 of that year to raise serious questions about the process of changing the approved language and whether it had occurred in a legal and open manner. I have never been satisfied with the answers provided by the district as to how the approved language was changed in a non-public setting and who did it.
Neither was Quigley, who continued to advocate for the protection of LGBT students and to raise questions about the non-public process of changing the handbook. It was from this Nov. 6, 2006, meeting that one can date the change in how Quigley was treated by the administration, as fears of his impending dismissal began. Oklahoma Gazette reported on this in the Dec. 13, 2006, issue ("E-mail altercation").
Judge Swinton's ruling indicates that Quigley has been unfairly treated by the administration. The ruling returns us to the core issue: Will the district finally, explicitly protect all of its students?
According to the 2007 National School Climate Survey published by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in one year at school, 86.2 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 44.1 percent reported being physically harassed and 22.1 percent reported being physically assaulted because of sexual orientation. The organization's research also concluded that schools with policies that protected LGBT students had fewer incidents of harassment, bullying and violence than those that did not.
Currently in our public schools, personal prejudice and political ideology get in the way of protecting students, as the mistreatment of Quigley demonstrates. It took the courts to rectify that mistake. In the meantime, a more hostile, abusive and violent environment has been created. I am hopeful that now, with new leadership on the board, the district will finally fulfill its obligations to protect all our students.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.