Friday , May 22, 2009
By Katie Landan
A group of parents in a California school district say they are being bullied by school administrators into accepting a new curriculum that addresses bullying, respect and acceptance -- and that includes compulsory lessons about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that will be taught to children as young as 5 years old.
The parents from the Unified School District in Alameda, a suburb of San Francisco and Oakland, say these issues are best learned at home and most definitely are not age-appropriate for elementary school children.
The parents are also angry that they will not be allowed to keep their children out of the classes.
“I believe these children are far too young to be learning about what these issues mean,” said Alaina Stewart, who has three children who attend elementary school in Alameda. “These are adult issues and they are being thrust upon the children.”
But the school board says otherwise, and its attorneys say that if the curriculum is adopted, the parents will have no legal right to remove their children from class when the lessons are being taught.
"By not allowing kids to opt out," says David Kirwin, who has two children in the system, "the school district is violating a First Amendment right for those who have a religion that doesn't support homosexuality."
The proposed curriculum will include a 45-minute LGBT lesson, once a year from kindergarten through fifth grade. The kindergartners will focus on the harms of teasing, while the fifth graders will study sexual orientation stereotypes.
The move toward the new curriculum began two years ago, when teachers noticed that even kindergarten students were using derogatory words about sexuality, such as “fag.”
“Students reported feeling bullied,” said Kirsten Vital, superintendent of the Alameda Unified School District. “This work is in response to teachers asking for tools to combat name-calling and bullying at school.”
Among the course materials that could be added to the curriculum is "And Tango Makes Three," a children’s book about gay penguins struggling to create a family. The book has been banned in some areas of the country.
In response to the controversy surrounding the proposed curriculum, the school board has held two public debates this month.
One parent told FOXNews.com an “overwhelming” majority of parents spoke out against LGBT instruction at one of the meetings, but that public opinion had little impact.
“The chairman of the school board repeatedly claimed to the audience that the curriculum is evenly supported and opposed,” said a parent named David, who asked that his last name be withheld.
“I am beginning to lose confidence of the board, as it seems to have a preconceived political agenda and not truly represent their constituent’s opposition to the curriculum,” he said.
But other parents say they are in full support of the proposed curriculum.
“Our schools are a reflection of our community and world,” said Marianne Bartholomew-Couts. “From a very early age, children should see what exists in the world.”
Michael Williams, another parent, thinks LGBT issues will come up anyway, and that teachers should be prepared. “The teachers would have the tools under the new curriculum to help kids respond appropriately,” he said.
California is no stranger to the controversy surrounding gay issues. Last November, voters passed Proposal 8, which overturned a Supreme Court ruling and banned gay marriage in the state.
The situation in Alameda is no different from the statewide ballot initiative: it has caught the attention of several organizations on both sides of the issue.
Ryan Schwartz, National Outreach Manager for GroundSpark—a non-profit organization that seeks justice in education—told FOXNews.com that teachers are responsible for creating an environment where students can feel comfortable and learn. Teaching the golden rule won’t cut it, he said.
“Instead of having to police the schoolyard for bullying,” said Schwartz, “this curriculum is designed to prevent it from the beginning.”
But other groups think the new curriculum is not balanced in whom it protects.
“Under law, there are five categories of protected classes when it comes to discrimination,” explained Karen England, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Resource Institute, an organization that advocates conservative policy on social issues.
"The curriculum focuses on only one subgroup protected under anti-discrimination laws: sexual orientation.”
England said she believes Alameda's curriculum committee has purposely excluded religion, even though it is one of the protected classes. “This indicates an agenda is being pushed, as opposed to an altruistic attempt to teach tolerance,” she said.
Members of the school board will vote on Tuesday whether to adopt the new curriculum. Vital, the superintendent, would not comment on the expected outcome.
“No matter what the outcome is, we need to do some work as a community to come together around issues of diversity, acceptance and understanding of one another,” she said.
Samples of the curriculum can be found at http://groundspark.org/our-films-and-campaigns/thatfamily and http://www.eqforall.com/proposed-lgbt-curriculum.html.