California School District’s Anti-Bullying Program Under Fire

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday September 24, 2009

Claims made by the anti-marriage side of the Proposition 8 battle that unfolded last year in California asserted that unless marriage parity was stripped away from gay and lesbian families, children in kindergarten would be "indoctrinated" through school lessons teaching them about alternative families.

Though education officials denied this, the message resounded with voters, who rescinded existing family rights for gays and lesbians at the ballot box last November.

But even though gay and lesbian families lost access to marriage in that state, California parents are still asserting that kindergartners are being exposed to lessons about gays and lesbians in the classroom through an anti-bullying plan instituted in schools belonging to the Alameda Unified School District.

A Sept. 3 article at FoxNews.com reported that parents opposed to the anti-bullying curriculum have brought suit against the school district.

The article stated that the parents claimed the lessons were "being foisted on kindergartners" and that they saw the curriculum as a form of "indoctrination."

The article also said that the suit could have repercussions in school districts nationwide, since eleven states have laws on the books requiring that schools address bullying in their curricula.

Though the curriculum does not actually address sexuality, and does not talk about gays and lesbians until the fifth grade level, parents still seek the privilege of opting their children out of the classes.

But other parents who support the curriculum argue that the lessons are vital for countering school bullying.

The lessons consist of 45-minute videos shown once during the course of the school year. Kindergartners learn about teasing and how it can be hurtful; issues of sexual orientation are included in the presentation shown to fifth-graders, which is the last year that the anti-bullying presentations are required in the Alameda Unified School District.

Even if the lawsuit is successful, messages about gays and lesbians permeate the culture of the school yard--though the messages tend to be negative, and they do not respect issues of age or grade. The Fox News article noted that the 45-minutes presentations got started because kindergartners were hurling anti-gay insults.

It's that sort of bullying among the very youngest children that the curriculum is intended to address, say supporters of the program like Carrie Brash, a mother quoted in the article as saying that her daughter had to endure harassment from schoolmates who would strike up a chorus of, "Lesbian, lesbian, your mom's a lesbian," in order to torment her.

Opponents counter that while the curriculum does (eventually) address gay and lesbian families and bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation, it neglects the issue of racially-based harassment.

The article quoted pastor Dion Evans, who spearheads opposition to the anti-bullying curriculum.

Said Evans, "My child has been the product of bullying because she's black," and claimed that classes in the school district had "never viewed a single video in the classroom" about harassment stemming from racial, rather than sexual, prejudice.

That objection, however, had already been addressed: the curriculum did not originally include material about racially-based bullying, but has been amended to incorporate such material.

Evans, however, also questioned whether it was the place of the school to instill values of respect for others. "I know how to successfully parent, educate, and instill value and self-worth in my child," the article quoted him as saying.

But even among the social and political right, there is no consensus that such programs are inappropriate. A Sept. 24 blog posting at Stop, Drop, and Roll, an Alameda blog site, that was carried online at the Web site for the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Fox News anchor Megyn and Fox News talkmeister Bill O'Reilly discussed the issue on air--and agreed that anti-bullying curricula in the schools was necessary, including lessons on not targeting individuals due to their sexuality.

A Sept. 24 posting at the San Francisco Chronicle's Open Forum site was authored by Alameda County Board of Supervisors President Alice Lai-Baker, who noted that the parents opposed to the anti-bullying curriculum had launched an effort to recall members of the Alameda School Board who had voted in favor of the once-a-year 45-minute presentations.

Wrote Lai-Bitker, "As a longtime Alameda resident, parent of two daughters who attended Alameda public schools and an elected official representing the city of Alameda, I strongly oppose the attempt to recall the majority of the Alameda school board."

Lai-Bitker added, "Alameda should be a strong, vibrant, respectful and supportive community for our children.

"It is this principle--along with the numerous requests from students and teachers--that compelled the majority of our school board to take the vote it did."

Lai-Bitker continued, "This vote was a common-sense action in a city like Alameda, where we value all our children and their safety.

"Now a local group is attempting to get a recall on the ballot for a special election," Lai-Bitker noted.

"This would cost our school district as much as $500,000, a significant amount that would come straight out of our school's already ailing budget."

Alameda resident Allan Mann weighed in with a Sept. 10 commentary carried by the Oakland Tribune and posted at Indie Oakland.com.

"I'm beginning to feel like Dorothy when she and Toto landed in Oz," wrote Mann. "I don't think I'm in Alameda any more.

"No, it feels more like Kansas... or Texas, or any of the other states where the religious right tried to take over school boards in the 1990s," Mann continued.

"Then, they didn't want their children taught that Darwin was right. Substitute 'homosexuality' for 'evolution' and you understand their current obsession."

Mann noted that the lawsuit against the school district was being funded by politically conservative groups--specifically, the Capitol Resource Institute, which describes its aims as "to educate, advocate, protect, and defend family-friendly policies in the California state legislature and at local government levels," and the Pacific Justice Institute, which describes its mission as "the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties."

Wrote Mann, "Pacific Justice Institute has already extorted money from the Castro Valley schools by making them settle a bogus lawsuit to avoid an expensive and time-consuming legal defense."

Mann's commentary went on to say, "Behind the smoke-screen of other arguments, the primary thrust of their agenda is clear: preventing the schools from portraying homosexuality as a normal human condition.

"Their position is based on an outmoded and broadly discredited religious belief that homosexuality is a choice and that behavior associated with it is sinful."

Noted Mann, "As human knowledge has advanced, so-called biblical 'truths' have been supplanted with more enlightened views.

"Although science was out of vogue the previous eight years, it clearly established that homosexuality is a naturally occurring biological difference akin to eye color, height or race."

Mann voiced a concern that has become more prevalent since the outcome of Proposition 8's successful repeal of the rights of a selected minority by voters. "If homophobia is allowed to flourish under the protection of religious freedom, then any form of bigotry can be justified," he wrote.

Added Mann, "Enshrining bias in religious doctrine does not make it right."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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