CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- A new state school board policy meant to protect students from bullying has drawn the ire of a state conservative group.
Jeremy Dys of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia told board members Wednesday his group disagrees with the inclusion of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" included in Policy 4373's bullying protections.
The state board typically does not allow public comment after taking up its agenda, but members gave Dys five minutes to speak. Wednesday's meeting was a continuation of Tuesday's board agenda.
Dys said the policy infringes on students' religious liberties. He said schools could use the new policy to punish students for writing about their anti-homosexuality beliefs online, or teaching a Bible lesson from the first chapter of Romans.
Board members don't usually respond to delegations, but board president Wade Linger addressed Dys' comments.
"I don't think this causes the things that you think it causes," Linger said.
He pointed out the policy includes 13 anti-bullying protections including race, religion, national origin, physical appearance and disabilities in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity.
"I'm not sure how it hurts to have that on the list," he said.
State board attorney Heather Deskins and Melanie Purkey, executive director of the education department's Office of Healthy Schools, addressed comments the board received while the policy was in its 60-day comment period.
Deskins said the harassment and bullying section of the policy would not violate students' First Amendment Rights.
She said state law already defines bullying and harassment as "intentional actions and speech" that cause harm to a student or their property, or actions and speech that cause reasonable fear of harm to students or their property.
State law also defines bullying as actions that are severe enough to create an "intimidating, threatening or emotionally abusive" environment for students, or actions that disrupt the orderly operation of school.