EDMOND, Okla. — A new father and resident of Edmond, Pastor Trey Witzel approached the Edmond School Board a little over three months ago, requesting the board to expand the district’s statement on non-discrimination. The school superintendent, however, believes the district's current broad-language policy already provides protection for all.
Witzel, an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church of Edmond, asks for the same standard of other peer institutions including: Oklahoma City Public Schools, Norman Public Schools, and Putnam City Public Schools to include “sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.”
He said the first time he approached the school board was a simple attempt at creating the most safe space for his newborn daughter, 5-month-old Sloane.
“I hope to raise her in the Edmond school district, and I applaud our district for having Gay-Straight Alliances in all three high schools,” Witzel said, “but that’s a start, not the end.”
Witzel said the main argument for not updating the district’s policy was that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that sex — which is included in his statement — serve as protection for what he and many others would like to see included.
“Federally, this may be true, but many in the social-sciences community believe it is important to differentiate, namely that sex is but one component to our identities,” Witzel said, “and that it is precisely these unnamed identities that discrimination — explicit and implicit — occur."
Witzel said he would like to see Edmond copy the strides peer institutions have made in making it explicitly clear that students and teachers are protected.
Witzel has met with Assoc. Supt. Debbie Bendick to consider the importance of expanding the district’s statement of non-discrimination.
“I appreciate their (school administrators) care and diligence to approaching this in the right way to ensure we have the most comprehensive protections for our students and staff and faculty,” Witzel said.
Supt. Bret Towne said the administration believes having broad, general categories in the statement covers and protects all groups including those groups identified by Witzel and groups who may not yet be identified and might be left off a very specific non-discrimination statement.
“I understand not wanting to spend time updating our non-discrimination policy, yet isn’t this precisely what we should be doing?” Witzel asked. “Shouldn’t we be assessing and reassessing our statements of value to make sure that as our student demographics change, our policy reflects the realities?
“If we wanted a broad, general category, why not simply say, ‘We will tolerate no discrimination?’ We’ve made claims on specific groups that have historically been discriminated, and it’s time we stand with a current marginalized group of students, faculty and staff.”
Witzel said there are two reasons why this matters.
He stated that one reason is when LGBTQ+ students have one affirming adult in their life, suicide drops 40%.
“Imagine if our school district as a whole affirmed them?” he said.
He said the second reason was when he has talked with some LGBTQ+ teachers, they don’t feel protected — even putting a picture of their spouse on their desk for fear of losing their job.
“The school administration may say that’s an unfounded fear, but nevertheless it’s a real fear, and real fears matter,” Witzel said.
“EACT appreciates Pastor Witzel for bringing this Important issue for both students and educators to the Edmond School Board and the community,” Edmond Association for Classroom Teachers president Chelsea Foos said.
Witzel said he would like to make it clear that he is not charging anyone with discrimination or homophobia.
“This is simply what I and others believe to be a gap that can easily be filled, and it has been done so by our peer institutions,” Witzel said.