NORTH BEND — Bible reading in public schools hasn’t taken place much in America for many years, but it happened not too long ago in this Oregon coastal city as a form of punishment.
And the fact that it did cost a school principal his job last month.
As reported by The World newspaper of Coos Bay, The Oregonian and Willamette Week, North Bend High School Principal Bill Lucero left his post as part of a settlement between the North Bend School District and American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon.
The settlement followed a finding by Oregon Department of Education that the district likely infringed on constitutional rights of North Bend High senior Liv Funk and 2017 graduate Hailey Smith. The two students had filed a discrimination complaint with the state agency in 2016. As a result of last month’s settlement, the two — who claimed North Bend High faculty and staff fostered an environment hostile to LGBTQ students, including them — said they would no longer pursue a lawsuit against the district. But they did require the district to make a $1,000 gift to a local LGBTQ support group.
The high school also will be required to work with the ACLU to implement training and policies aimed at preventing future discrimination.
The allegations against the district not only included an LGBTQ student being forced to read Bible passages as a form of punishment, but also that LGBTQ students were discriminated against after reporting sexual harassment.
The entire controversy received national attention through the New York Times, which said LGBTQ students had encountered a “deeply religious culture” at the school that had silenced their complaints.
Funk’s and Smith’s claims were outlined in a March 6 letter from the state agency to district Superintendent Bill Yester. A nine-hour mediation session in Salem in April had failed to reach a resolution on the matter between the district and one of the students.
The district earlier said the alleged incidents took place over several years and that most had not been brought to its attention, but that once it became aware, the district dealt with the problem privately and internally as a personnel issue to ensure corrective action was taken.
The district disputed many of the state agency’s preliminary findings, and stated North Bend schools work daily to make sure all students feel respected and safe. District officials initially denied Lucero had ordered the Bible readings as punishment, but during the state investigation, Lucero admitted to it and a teacher confirmed it.
Among the major points of the newspapers’ coverage:
•The district allegedly treated students differently on the basis of sex and sexual orientation when imposing discipline.
•One student said they were hesitant to report discrimination because of the religious beliefs of certain staff.
•The student believes the Bible reading was imposed as discipline because of their sexual identity.
•The state agency found substantial evidence that using the Bible as punishment had a “chilling effect” on LGBTQ students’ use of the district’s complaint process.
•The district allegedly failed to respond to complaints of sexual harassment made by LGBTQ students.
•One student reported that a teacher in class equated same-sex marriage to marrying a dog. That teacher eventually apologized to the student after a district administrator, human resource officer and building supervisor all discussed the incident with the teacher.
During its investigation, the state agency discerned that a counselor in the school district who had advocated for the LGBTQ students had experienced retaliation within the district. That counselor, who was not identified in the newspaper article, told The World that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is opening a separate investigation on what happened to him and that he was requesting a letter of apology from the district.
In addition to Lucero’s job at the school ending, the school district will ask the North Bend Police Department to either remove or replace North Bend High’s school resource officer, Jason Griggs. According to the newspapers, Griggs reportedly told Funk she was going to hell for being gay.