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Orientation redux

Submitted by on 1, June 25, 2008 – 8:20 amNo Comment

A school district team unveiled plans Tuesday night for new lessons addressing sexual orientation and gender identity that could be taught in all of the district’s elementary school classrooms this coming school year. The district’s plan would also provide teachers and staff with a uniform set of policies addressing name-calling, harassment and other anti-gay behavior which consultant Barry Chersky said is often overlooked. Chersky said he recently worked with the San Leandro school district to implement similar policies and lessons, and he said San Francisco has had such policies and lessons for more than a decade.

Assistant Superintendent Debbie Wong, who is heading the team working on this, told the school board that her goal is to ensure all families feel safe in Alameda’s schools. The team said the lessons would focus on inclusiveness and family diversity. “We know this can be a very controversial topic. But we know morally that this is the right thing to do,” Wong said. When asked if the team had gotten any negative feedback on its work, Wong said, “We haven’t taken it so public.”

Two schools have hosted classroom presentations on these issues this year, said Franklin School Principal and team member Gail Rossiter. And the presentation at Franklin, which Rossiter said she arranged on behalf of a student who she said was “gender presenting,” upset some parents, who complained they weren’t given enough notice about it and questioned whether it would be appropriate for their young children. Rossiter downplayed any controversy around her school’s presentation (here’s info on Gender Spectrum, which did the presentation).

Franklin parent Sean Cahill, the lone parent on the curriculum team and possibly the district’s best advertisement for the new lessons and father of two, said he’s grateful the district is doing this work. Per Cahill:

There were no books about two dads, and there were no discussions about two moms, and what it means to be in a family that was gay … It has taken me a long time to come to grips with my reality, my place in the world, to have a voice. I did that myself. A lot of kids shouldn’t have to go through that struggle.

The school board, which could approve the lessons this fall, seemed supportive, with Trustee David Forbes comparing gays’ current struggles to those of the civil rights activists of the 1960s. Wong said her group is working on lesson plans for the district’s secondary schools, too. Community forums on the plans are slated to be held in the fall, and we’ll tell you all about those when the dates are set.

Meanwhile, the board welcomed Dr. Gilbert Cho as the new principal for Wood Middle School. Looks like Cho is currently principal at San Francisco’s Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School (they have uniforms!) and has worked as an administrator at several Oakland schools.

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