NORTH BEND — The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding changes in Oregon schools.
These changes would prevent any other students from beings forced to read the Bible as punishment, as seen in a discrimination case against the North Bend School District.
The ACLU of Oregon announced to The World on Tuesday that it is representing two students from NBSD who were alleged victims of discrimination.
“This is a core issue with the ACLU and we think all students deserve to be in a safe and healthy learning environment, regardless of sexual orientation or religious beliefs,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director for the ACLU of Oregon. “We are now representing two of the students involved and want to ensure that this kind of discriminatory treatment and proselytization does not occur in Oregon schools, including the North Bend School District.
“We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, today, but also in the future.”
According to dos Santos, the ACLU of Oregon is looking to NBSD to provide “meaningful resolution” that ensures this behavior never happens again.
“Policy changes are on the table,” he said.
These discussions include everything from permanent change to how district staff dealt with these issues, how the district responded, and the deficiencies the ACLU of Oregon highlights.
“We want to address it in a proactive way so students don’t have to go through this again,” dos Santos said.
Since The World first published the story detailing ODE’s investigation, more people have come forward with accounts of the same discrimination happening to them. One contacted The World, but will remain anonymous until after the May 24 hearing, who said she was forced to read the Bible in 2011. The punishment came after she missed a few classes and needed to make up the time through detention.
“Being forced into an ultimatum to either read the Bible to him (the alleged school administrator) or he wouldn’t sign off on my time made up to graduate high school is an abuse of power,” she said. “When I was young, I thought that he was just doing that to me because he is a family friend that I have known since I was in diapers, but now that I’m learning he does this to other children I want to see him get what he deserves.
“He abuses the fact that he’s got an adult voice in a sea of young people and it’s sickening.”
More have reached out to the Oregon chapter of the ACLU since The World first published the story. According to dos Santos, these people never said anything at the time because they were afraid.
“They were afraid of the administration and retaliation, something the Oregon Department of Education has already substantiated,” dos Santos said. “So I think we will likely see a lot more in the coming weeks of people willing to step up now that they know something will be done about it.”
The ACLU of Oregon is looking for ways to protect witnesses willing to testify at the upcoming May 24 hearing against the district.
“We want immediate change,” dos Santos said. “The school district is required, if they find substantial evidence of discrimination under Oregon’s laws, to resolve the issue per ODE rules. If not resolved adequately, ODE has additional tools at their disposal.”
Those tools include restricting funds, restricting school participation in interscholastic activities such as sports, and/or imposing fines.
“If ODE finds there was substantial evidence of discrimination, the district has to respond very quickly,” dos Santos said.
He pointed to the statement made by the district to The World on May 11, which said the Bible being used as punishment was an “isolated incident” that was resolved.
“This tells me they aren’t taking this very seriously and aren’t doing the kind of investigation we would expect of a school district looking into such serious allegations,” he said. “If you look at what ODE’s initial findings said, we know it wasn’t an isolated event. I was surprised by that press release and it makes me think they are on the defensive trying to circumvent and hope it just goes away.”
Right now the ACLU of Oregon is urging people to come forward and contact them with more information on the issue. Dos Santos invites people to visit action.aclu.org/legal-intake/cor-legal-assistance-request to submit a webform.
“This is an incredibly important story about the courage of two young women who’ve come forward against a culture of fear and retaliation at a school district,” dos Santos said. “This is a watershed moment for public education in Oregon.”