The first guidelines to help teachers, students and parents develop local policies and practices to address issues involving sexual orientation in public schools were announced this week by the First Amendment Centre (FAC.)

“Americans are deeply divided over homosexuality in our society,” said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the FAC, “But if school officials and community members use the ground rules of the First Amendment, they can reach agreement on how public schools can guard the rights of all students in a safe learning environment.”

The nonpartisan guidelines call on school officials to be “fair, honest brokers of a dialogue that involves all stakeholders and seeks the common good.”

The recommendations were drafted by Haynes and Wayne Jacobsen of BridgeBuilders, an organisation that helps schools and communities find common ground on religious issues. Representatives from the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) also served on the drafting committee and endorsed the process recommended in the guide.

“So often our national discourse focuses on those issues which divide us. These guidelines highlight, however, that respect is our common American value,” GLSEN founder and Executive Director Kevin Jennings said.

“I want to personally commend our colleagues from CEAI, the FAC and so many educators, religious leaders and influencers who are joining together in this great effort to ensure America’s schools are safe and effective environments for each and every student.”

Finn Laursen, executive director of the CEAI said: “Our endorsement of the guidelines for Public Schools and Sexual Orientation is in no way a wandering away from, change or compromise of our long established support of traditional family values and Biblical standards,”

“We have all seen a growing hostility in the schooling community centred on this issue. It is evident that emotions escalate when not all stakeholders are included from the onset and the issues surrounding homosexuality come in under the radar.”

“The strength of these guidelines is the focus to include all stakeholders impacted by this issue, which clearly includes the Faith Community. We need to be sensitive to listen and show respect for individuals with opinions on all sides of this issue even if we don’t agree with them. In this type of environment, those expressing views based on religious convictions or personal experience can do so without violating their own personal convictions,” he said.

Two national educational leadership groups, the American Association of School Administrators and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) have also endorsed the guidelines.

The new guidelines are the latest in a series of common-ground statements developed and published by the centre and endorsed by a broad range of religious and educational groups. In 2000, three of these consensus guides on religious liberty in public schools were sent by the U.S. Department of Education to every public school in the United States.

The initiative comes in reaction to recent tours of “former gay” groups around the country.