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Back to September Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 308 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS SEPTEMBER 2011

No Intolerance Tolerated?
The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) was up in arms in June over yet another infringement of parental rights by the public school system. Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills invited six speakers to address students at a May program called "CHOICES" (Create Hopeful Opportunities in Children's Everyday Situations). According to Laurie Higgins, Director of the Division for School Advocacy for IFI, two of the speakers on bullying and drugs announced that they are homosexual and that they have always known they are homosexual.

The school sent a notification letter/permission slip to parents before the event informing them of the topics and speakers, but gave no indication that certain speakers would mention their homosexuality.

After the event, each student had an opportunity to write a thank-you note. One seventh-grader wrote to one of the homosexual speakers and included a statement recommending that, if the speaker or his boyfriend were ever tempted to use drugs again, they should ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?" Seventh-grade science teacher Tommie Arens criticized the reference to possible future drug use, so the student threw the note away. Later, Arens retrieved the note from the trash and called a meeting with other teachers to question the boy about what he wrote.

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Another teacher at the meeting, Erin Brickman, apparently suspected the student of intolerance against homosexuals. She asked him what he believed about homosexuality and what his church taught about it. When she seemed to be getting nowhere with her questions, an exasperated Brickman said, "Cut the crap. I'm not going to take any more of this crap." She then marched out of the room.

Later, Brickman questioned the student's mother about homosexuality in the same way she had questioned the student. The tenor and tone of her questions seemed to address the students' religious and moral convictions more so than his actual conduct.

In a subsequent meeting with Principal Tom Springborn, the mother asked why parental notification neither referenced the speakers' open homosexuality, nor notified parents that homosexuality would be mentioned. The principal told her that homosexuality was not a speech topic and the speakers did not talk about it very long. Yet in the short time that it was mentioned, homosexuality was presented in a positive light by the speakers as something that you are and not something that you do, an assertion many parents disagree with and would not appreciate their children being taught.

Laurie Higgins was also present during that meeting between the principal and the parent, and she asked Springborn if a speaker would still be invited to address students if the principal knew he was going to mention that he was in an incestuous relationship with his sister. Springborn responded that that would be fine, implying that he is among those educators who are persuaded that sexual deviancy is amoral and that a person's sexual preferences are equivalent to their skin color.

Springborn did admit that that some of the teachers have strong beliefs in favor of homosexuality, that the personal beliefs of teachers should be left at home, and that Brickman's interrogation of the student was inappropriate; however, teachers' subjective opinions have been brought into his school's classrooms in more ways than one.

Another teacher told Springborn that she questioned a student because he was staring at another student in a "bullying fashion." One teacher expressed concern about a student's "tone of voice" in questioning one of the CHOICES program speakers.

"How minimally unpleasant does a student action have to be and how draconian will the school anti-bullying measures have to become before parents say 'no more'?" asked Higgins. "Every civilized adult opposes bullying, but not every unpleasant student action constitutes bullying. Once teachers start inquiring about students' feelings or religious beliefs, they have gone too far," she wrote in an email alert distributed by IFI.

The take-away lesson for parents is that even when schools comply with parental notification laws, they don't always give the full story. It is ultimately up to parents to remain vigilant and hold schools accountable to protect their children from unwanted influences. (www.illinoisfamily.org, 6-21-11)


 
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