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Day of Silence quiets school

Some parents keep their children home on Friday

— Omak High School’s first-ever Day of Silence in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students went off Friday without any problems.

The event was part of a nationwide day of support for those students and the silence they often endure because of their sexual orientation or identity, Gay-Straight Alliance adviser Stephanie Clark said.

Principal David Kirk said there were “lots of participants” among the school’s students, but he didn’t have a count of how many. A number of staff members wore ribbons of support.

The day drew the ire of some parents, who said they were pulling their students out of school for the day.

“My kids are home,” Amie Ellis Meese wrote on Facebook. “Can’t believe they are condoning the division this is causing amongst staff and students. Very sad.”

Kirk said Friday he was not aware of parents keeping their students home, but hadn’t collected any data on that day’s absenteeism.

“We have no way of knowing why” a student was absent, he said. Although a note is required when an absent student returns to school, Kirk said the school doesn’t verify each student’s excuse.

Clark said each participant was asked to wear a sign around his or her neck explaining why the student was not talking to other students that day.

There was one report of two non-participants chatting within earshot of a participant when one used the term “that’s gay,” meaning something stupid or disliked. The participant apparently reported the conversation to officials; one student got in trouble and contacted his mother to pick him up.

The alliance is made up of mostly straight students who “are concerned about bullying of lesbian, gay, straight and transgender students,” she said. “This is to call attention to bullying, harassment and intimidation” of gay and transgender students.

Although Day of Silence participants were not talking to their peers, they would speak to staff members, she said.

The day was advocated by the national Gay-Straight Alliance and the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Omak’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which is affiliated with the national group, formed last month.

At least two Omak Middle School parents said their daughters were informed Thursday that they and other younger students should participate. That prompted them to keep their students home.

Middle School Vice Principal Joe LaGrou said he wasn’t aware of the Day of Silence until Thursday, and that his school was not participating since the alliance is a high school club. He said his school tries to be aware of and sensitive to all students’ needs.

School Board member Pete Sirois said the board wasn’t told about the day.

Meanwhile, local schools have or are about to consider policies addressing discrimination against transgender students – those who identify with the opposite sex. State law requires school districts to adopt transgender policies.

Among other provisions, the policies and procedures address use of restrooms and locker rooms by transgender students.

Omak’s transgender procedure, as written, allows transgender students to choose their shower and restroom facilities. But Superintendent Erik Swans said, in practice, students wouldn’t use the other sex’s facilities and instead would be offered alternate facilities.

Neighboring Okanogan adopted a stripped-down policy that includes the law’s minimum requirements, Superintendent Richard Johnson said. Private staff restrooms and showers would be made available if needed.

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