Bentonville School Board Delays Decision On Anti-Discrimination Policy Changes

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BENTONVILLE (KFSM)- The Bentonville School Board voted Monday (May 4) to delay a decision regarding proposed changes to its employee anti-discrimination policy until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

Currently, the district's anti-discrimination policy aligns with state and federal laws by protecting employees against discrimination based on color, race, religion, sex and national origin. The proposed policy change would extend anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bentonville School District Superintendent Michael Poore started off the more-than-hour-long discussion by suggesting the board wait until SCOTUS rules on whether the Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry.

"It seems to make sense to me that we do try and get out of in front from doing it without really knowing where federal law could actually impact where we stand on this particular issue," Poore said.

Others said the SCOTUS ruling doesn't apply in this case.

"The Supreme Court has nothing to do with hiring policies," Duncan Campbell said.

Campbell attended Monday night's meeting and is against making changes to the district's employee policy.

"I think it's a mistake to wait because the community is now divisive," he said. "I do think it would make a difference if [the board] just said 'we're not going to do that.'"

Benton County Justice of the Peace Pat Adams said the district could face lawsuits no matter what decision the board makes.

"If the court rules one way, there are going to be lawsuits," he said. "If they rule the other way, there are going to be lawsuits."

Three school board members voted to delay the decision on policy changes until the SCOTUS ruling and three board members voted to keep the policy as it is.

The Northwest Arkansas Center for Equality released the following statement to 5NEWS regarding the board's decision:

"Less than 24 hours before hosting a high profile film festival that celebrates diversity, Bentonville is reminding the world that inequality is reality in Northwest Arkansas. It is disheartening that the Bentonville School District could not update an antiquated policy and protect all employees equally, just as the University of Arkansas and other school districts have done.

Like all teachers, local LGBTQ teachers are talented professionals committed to helping Bentonville students succeed. How much longer must they wait before receiving the same basic protections as their straight colleagues? Superintendent Michael Poore’s suggestion that updating a local school district policy requires a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is ridiculous and insulting. This vote reinforces that some teachers committed to educating Bentonville's youth remain a second class in the eyes of the school district and at risk for discrimination.

We are grateful for Grant Lightle, who proposed this long overdue update of the district’s non-discrimination policy and the fair minded board members who voted in support of it."

SCOTUS is not expected to make a ruling regarding same-sex marriage before late June.