Under the duress of a lawsuit and threats of recall, the Alameda Board of Education (Califonia) has voted to phase out an elementary school curriculum it adopted in May of this year to prevent anti-gay bullying.
The so-called Lesson 9, which had become an opposition centerpiece in a national anti-gay marriage campaign, will be replaced by a more generic anti-bullying message. The board’s action Tuesday night did little to ease the tension between gay parents, who want their children protected, and parents who who think elementary school is too early to talk to students about gay people.
The new anti-bullying lessons approved by the board, at the recommendation of School Superintendent Kirsten Vital, will be supplemented by children’s books that explicitly address six specific forms of bias, including bias toward gays. Vital said her recommendation was meant to counter complaints from parents opposed to the original lesson because it highlighted only one type of bullying.
"This has torn apart our community," said school trustee Trish Herrera Spencer, the board member most opposed to the gay curriculum and who opposed adding the supplemental books. She said the board’s latest action did not take into consideration "the strong beliefs" of all in the community.
The 45-minute Lesson 9, which was to be taught once a year in each grade starting with kindergarten, sparked a lawsuit, accusations that religious families were being discriminated against and threats of a recall election against the three board members who approved it.
"There is not an off-the-shelf, perfect curriculum that is going to work for our community," Vital said, explaining that she wants to solicit book recommendations, bring them back to the school board for approval in a few months and then work with teachers to develop accompanying lesson plans in time for the 2010-11 academic year.
Several parents said they did not trust a teachers’ committee to pick books that would both satisfy gay and lesbian parents and parents with religious views that do not condone homosexuality. "Freedom of religion is protected from harassment and discrimination from anyone. It may be of no consequence to some, but it is a very integral part of many traditional families and should be honored," said Kellie Wood, who has three children in Alameda schools and is part of a group circulating recall election petitions.
Kathy Passmore, a lesbian mother of two, said she hears students using anti-gay language in her job as a sixth grade teacher in Alameda. She urged the school board to retain the spirit of Lesson 9. "The children of gay families exist and are attending ASUD schools every single day," she said. "They are here."
A dozen Alameda families sued the school district earlier this year over its contention that parents did not have to be notified in advance when teachers planned to give the lessons so they could keep their children from receiving them. Last week, an Alameda Superior Court judge sided with the school district, ruling that a state law allowing parents to have their "opt-out" of discussions about human sexuality did not apply to Lesson 9. Kevin Snider, a lawyer with the conservative Pacific Justice Institute who represented the Alameda families, said before the school board’s vote that his clients would not appeal the judge’s ruling if the school board eliminated Lesson 9.
This seems like the typical phobic close-minded religious folks trying to keep the blinders on their children in hopes of ensuring the same staid values of centuries past are upheld. The few forward thinking individuals are being targeted to stop developing open-mindedness and creating an environment of freedom and choice. This doesn't seem like it's reached a plateau yet, so it will be interesting to see what the 2010 school curriculum will hold.