EL MONTE — For months, Albert Killackey has been pushing the El Monte City School Board to take its first step toward explicitly prohibiting discrimination in the district.
In a matter of seconds Tuesday night, board members did just that. Without an inkling of debate, they unanimously approved the first reading of a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy proposed by Supt. Duane Dishno.
"It looks like exactly what we're asking for," said Killackey, an El Monte resident whose two sons attend district schools. "It's never been a question of real fault. If anything, it's everyone's fault, because we have not provided teachers and administrators with the proper tools to recognize discrimination.
"Hopefully, this will."
In approving the measure, the school board moved to dodge an imminent state investigation into policies that allowed separate mother-daughter and father-son events on school grounds.
In May, Killackey persuaded the El Monte Council of PTAs to stop sponsoring such events. But the state Department of Education, also responding to Killackey's complaints, warned the district that it, too, must revise its policies by June 20 or face a formal investigation.
The new policy states that: "No discrimination between the sexes shall be permitted in opportunities for admission, participation in curricular and co-curricular activities including intramural and interscholastic sports, or in the extension of any other privileges or advantages."
The board is expected to give final approval to the policy at its June 21 meeting.
The new policy was developed by the California School Boards Assn., Dishno said, and was approved by the district's legal counsel.
It also states: "In all school operations, the faculty must be especially careful to guard against unconscious sex discrimination and stereotyping."
Reuben A. Burton, manager of the state Department of Education's Intergroup Relations Office, which investigates complaints of bias, said the new policy appears to follow state requirements.
"We will have our legal office evaluate the wording," Burton said. "But it sounds to me like it meets our expectations."
He said his department would allow an extension of the June 20 deadline to permit the board to put the policy into effect with a second vote.
Killackey, a construction worker, began his one-man crusade against traditional forms of discrimination in the district after he and his sons walked out of a PTA-sponsored father-son banquet at Durfee School in January featuring a guest speaker from the Los Angeles Dodgers. A corresponding mother-daughter event included tips on the proper use of makeup.
According to the state warning, such events violate Section 225 of the state Education Code, which prohibits sex discrimination, including segregated events that are not "reasonably comparable."
Killackey complained to the PTA, the district, the state Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education. Sen. Alan Cranston also got involved, asking the federal agency to reconsider an earlier decision not to pursue the matter.
At their Tuesday night meeting, most school board members, while admitting the need to fall in line with state requirements, did not consider the move a major one. They also said they did not see discrimination as a problem.
"I wasn't aware that there was discrimination in the school district," said member Bob Peviani. "I don't think people here discriminate. But if it complies with the state, it's probably a good thing to go with."
"It's a change in the right direction," said Shirley Mante, school board president. "Obviously, we didn't have a policy before, so we needed one."
But member Bob Camerota recognized Killackey's efforts and concerns after the board's vote. "He brought it to us in an unusual way," Camerota told the crowd of about 100, "but I think we agree on the end result."
"It's something we needed," Camerota said later. "Now it's something we have to enforce."
Dishno also said the district lacked an adequate anti-discrimination rule, saying bias can be an inherent but sometimes invisible problem.
"We'll need to take a look at all our policies and all of our programs to make sure they are complying with the new regulations," he said. "There can be a lot of unconscious stereotyping that we're all guilty of."
Dishno also said he plans to set up a summer workshop for district administrators to explain the intent and spirit of district, state and federal policies against discrimination. Follow-up activities also will be provided for other school staff, he said.
"My intent is to make it a positive experience," Dishno said. "That's the way people should feel about it."
Although Killackey was enthusiastic about the new policy, he said his work is not finished.
"What it is I've been waiting for is the working policy that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or anything else," he said. "The words look good; but if it's not put into action, it doesn't mean anything."