Protection sought for gay duo at prom

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 7 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

Jason Atwood knows there's a private prom for high schoolers who want to take dates of the same sex. He's been to one.
But Atwood would rather attend a prom at his own high school. However, he worries that he might be barred because his parents won't sign a permission slip.
Jason's mom, Karen Atwood, said Copper Hills High School seems to be asking parents to waive the school's responsibility to protect gay students.
"If the school is not going to offer that protection, we're not going to sign a slip saying we release the school from liability," Karen Atwood said.
But Copper Hills High School assistant principal Marsha Morgan said the permission requirement is going to be revisited. She has confidence everything will be worked out by prom time.
"It was not intended to be discriminatory," Morgan said.
Jason Atwood and another student had simply wanted to make sure the environment would be safe at last month's Sadie Hawkins dance. He asked for a list of chaperones to let them know his date would be a boy, so they could look out for the couple.
"I wanted to make sure we would be free from discrimination," Jason Atwood said, noting his concern arose from harassment at another school's dance.
Morgan said Jason Atwood first brought the request to an assistant principal and then to principal Tom Worlton, who said the boy's parents would have to be OK with it.
Worlton was not working from policy but a judgment call, Morgan said, who is acting principal while Worlton is having knee surgery.
Worlton's judgment call was supported by the district.
"This is purely a safety issue," district spokesman Michael Kelley said. "If there is a concern about the safety of a student, it's our responsibility and obligation to make sure parents are aware of that."
But Karen Atwood wonders if the school is discriminating against her son and trying to shirk its responsibility to protect him.
"Jason gets harassed quite a bit at school just because he's gay," she said. "I just hope the school has the decency to correct its policy and make it a safe environment for all their students."
Worlton's decision prompted protests by some students. They also contacted the ACLU, which offered to step in if needed. On Friday, Worlton sat down with the students and said he'd rethink his decision.
"They had a good talk, listened and shared understanding from where both parties were coming from . . . and Mr. Worlton did agree to again look at that decision before the next date dance," likely the junior prom, Morgan said.
While Worlton may not return in time to reverse the decision before the New Year's dance in January, Morgan said she's confident everything will be worked out.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com

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