TRAVERSE CITY — Editor's note: Newsmakers 2011 recounts and updates stories that made headlines in the Grand Traverse region during the past year. Today: Backlash for TCAPS' anti-bullying decision. To read this series in full as articles are published, visit Record-Eagle.com/newsmakers.
Traverse City school board members voted early this year to include sexual orientation as a protected group in its bullying policy, but the decision remains fresh in opponents' minds and could impact upcoming board elections.
Traverse City Area Public Schools board Vice President Gary Appel said he was unaware of any specific bullying cases tied to the revised policy since it went into effect in April, but said it still sends an important message.
"It was intended to send a message to the TCAPS community that we value all students, and our role is to ensure the safety of all students," Appel said. "We're making sure that all the supporting conditions are in place to learn at the highest level possible."
Opponents counter that the language was motivated by a broader political agenda to provide special rights based on sexual orientation.
"Other than ramping up the promotion of homosexuality in the schools, I don't think it's had any impact," said Paul Nepote, one of the critics of the revision. He said homosexuality is "not normal" and should not be promoted in schools.
"They're trying to teach homosexual as normal, starting with our young children," he said.
Nepote said he continues to meet with TCAPS policy opponents. He said they hope to find someone to run against Appel in the fall board election; he is the only board member facing re-election in 2012.
"We've already got people lined up and financing; the same groups that helped finance help against Prop 1 will be guaranteeing financing for any candidates that are going to run," Nepote said.
He declined to name any possible candidates but ruled out himself.
Nepote also posted a call on his Facebook page for people "who engaged in homosexual behavior because the school or city said it was normal and healthy, who then suffered demonstrable harm of any kind as a result." To date, no one has come forward.
"We're looking for somebody to sue the school system," Nepote said. "Someone who actually had a problem or had a bad experience due to the school promoting it."
Appel dismissed Nepote's efforts.
"We have a small band of extremists attempting to bully and intimidate the board. It won't work," he said.
On Dec. 6, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that requires schools statewide to adopt anti-bullying policies. Unlike TCAPS' policy, the final bill did not enumerate specific groups entitled to protection.
Appel defended TCAPS' decision to list groups in its own bullying policy.
"There's a huge body of evidence that students who are gay and homosexual or perceived to be homosexual are disproportionately targeted for bullying," Appel said. "The enumerations, or specifying groups that tend to be targeted more than others, pays huge dividends."
"The state bullying law that passed was exactly like what I and my group were talking about: Protect all groups from bullying," Nepote said. "You don't single out classes of people. It's ridiculous."