2010: Beaverton dismisses, then reinstates, gay student teacher
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
Seth Stambaugh, a graduate student at Lewis & Clark College, was assigned to teach at Sexton Mountain Elementary School in Beaverton for the 2010-11 school year.
As kids often are, one of Stambaugh's fourth-grade students was curious about his new teacher's personal life. In September, he approached Stambaugh with some questions. He asked Stambaugh if he was married, and Stambaugh said he wasn't. When the student asked why, Stambaugh explained the facts of the time: It wasn't yet legal for a person to marry another person of the same sex in Oregon, so Stambaugh couldn't get married, because he would choose to marry another man.
Word of the conversation made its way to school administration, and then to the school district. Sexton Mountain Elementary's principal reportedly asked for Stambaugh to be reassigned. District officials told Stambaugh that not only was he no longer welcome as a student teacher at Sexton Mountain Elementary, but he wouldn't be allowed to continue teaching anywhere in the Beaverton School District.
The decision prompted public outcry, with 22 parents of children in Stambaugh's class at Sexton Mountain Elementary signing onto a letter demanding the school district reinstate him, and drew national headlines. The teachers' union got involved. So did Jerome Colonna, then-superintendent of Beaverton schools. Publicly, Colonna expressed unease with the district's swift, hardline response, and he agreed to meet with Stambaugh to discuss what happened.
After meeting with Stambaugh and revisiting the district's actions, at a "listening session" on Oct. 21, 2010, Colonna announced the student teacher would be reinstated. He said district officials had made a mistake in removing Stambaugh from the classroom without a considered process, and that they would learn from the incident.
"We have a lot of work to do," Colonna admitted.
Stambaugh called his reinstatement "a great first step," but he said he was troubled by the message that the school district had sent by removing him from the classroom in the first place: "that somehow (being) queer is not OK," as he put it.
"My hasty disappearance from Sexton Mountain is an express example that sends this message to students, many of whom are perceived to be different, may live in LGBT families or may be queer themselves," Stambaugh said.
Stambaugh filed a discrimination suit against the Beaverton School District over the incident. In February 2011, the district agreed to a $75,000 settlement with Stambaugh.
Despite what happened, Stambaugh wasn't put off his pursuit of a career in education. He obtained his master's degree in education from Lewis & Clark in 2012, and he currently teaches at an elementary school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Same-sex marriage became legal in Oregon in 2014. It became legal in New Mexico the year before that.
As for Colonna, he retired from the Beaverton School District in June 2011, having previously announced that the 2010-11 school year would be his last. He moved to Bend and was later appointed to the State Board of Education, a position he continues to hold.
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