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The evening after

Submitted by on 1, May 19, 2009 – 6:00 am14 Comments

11School board members on Monday night offered their first public hints about how they may vote on proposed lessons to address anti-gay taunts and bullying at the continuation of their public hearing on the lessons.

The board is slated to vote on whether to include the lessons in the district’s K-5 curriculum on May 26.

“The words gay and lesbian – some people believe those are sexual words in themselves. I don’t believe that,” School board trustee Ron Mooney said during the board’s question session, after listening to dozens of the 350 people who showed up to the hearing speak.

“The statement that the curriculum is exclusive is only supported because it’s not understood that teachers have the tools (to deal with other issues),” Mooney said. “If we need to be more implicit, I support that. But I don’t think we need to overhaul the curriculum at this point.”

Trustee Patricia Spencer offered a list of grade-by-grade concerns about the lessons, which she said focused too much on just one of the five groups protected from harassment under state law.

“This idea that all these children should be reflected in the classroom – I kind of agree with that,” Spencer said. “I have a problem going specific with just one of the five protected subgroups. I think there’s a lot more work to be done.”

Trustee Tracy Lynn Jensen asked whether other activities like Black History Month and religious holidays are celebrated in the classroom. And she wanted to know what tools teachers would have to deal with anti-gay bullying if the lessons aren’t approved.

“It sounds like teachers asked for this specifically because they didn’t have the tools,” she said.

School board President Mike McMahon asked what the district’s legal exposure would be if the board okays the curriculum – or doesn’t. He also questioned whether the district’s current curriculum was adequate for addressing bullying in the schools.

McMahon said Trustee Niel Tam is on Poland on a family work trip, but he is expected to be back in town to vote on this issue.

The board’s comments followed roughly four hours of testimony from most of the 101 people who had signed up to speak at last Tuesday’s public hearing on the lessons – testimony that showcased deepening divisions over the issue, with sharper rhetoric, hisses and taunts from audience members (pro) and threats that the district would face lawsuits and lose students and that board members would face tougher election campaigns if they okay the lessons (anti).

One parent who charged a speaker opposed to the curriculum was ejected from the meeting.

Parents who oppose the lessons said the district is wrong to waste its limited time and money on something that parents are so divided on. And they said they think the lessons will be effective only in advancing a specific political agenda and hardening lines between opposing parents, instead of meeting the district’s stated goal of stopping anti-gay harassment.

Some said they think the district needs to broaden its focus, addressing bullying for race and other reasons.

Supporters, some of them parents in same-sex relationships, told stories about their children being marginalized in school and hurt by the characterization of their families as being wrong. They said their families need the same positive visibility in schools that the other groups already get.

Others spoke to what they said are the consequences of anti-gay bullying, while audience members held up photos of children who one speaker said had been victimized or killed because they were gay or perceived as gay.

The vast majority of the speakers on Monday said they oppose the lessons, though the crowd at Kofman Auditorium, where the meeting was held, seemed evenly divided between supporters and opponents. McMahon said that despite the intervention of out-of-town interest groups on both sides, the vast majority of speakers were locals.

“Just to be clear, both sides of this argument have had well-orchestrated opposition and well-orchestrated support,” McMahon said.

Patricia Sanders, president of the Alameda Education Association, said the teacher’s union supports the curriculum. The board of Alameda Family Services also voiced its support. The board of Girls Inc. of the Island City and Alameda’s Social Service Human Relations Board have also endorsed the plan.

Members of three groups – the Sacramento-based Capitol Resource Institute and Pacific Justice Institute and a group called Citizens for Good Government – have spoken in opposition to the curriculum.

The hearing on the lessons began last Tuesday but was continued after hundreds of people were turned out of an overflowing council chamber at City Hall for safety reasons.


“When people say this is a moral issue, I agree. Fairness is always a moral issue.” David Teeters, speaking in support

“Please pass this so our children don’t grow up with our racism and homophobia. And (the Asian community) owes an apology to the LGBT community for excluding them so long from our curriculum.” Tabitha Kim, speaking in support

“I, as an educator, would be very uncomfortable teaching this lesson.” Kevin Jeung, speaking in opposition

“We’ll never get to the point of everyone being equal if we try to pretend that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people don’t exit.” Teri Kennedy, speaking in support

“I’m disturbed that well-organized members of the community want to teach my children that my family is immoral … invisible … that we don’t share the same love they do.” Anne Mania, speaking in support

“Homosexuality is influenced by environmental factors, including lessons at school. Teaching kids that all sexual behaviors are desirable will increase the number of children who depart from the norm.” Richard Hunter, speaking in opposition, reading from what he said was a formal analysis of the lessons from a psychlogist

“Just in case you haven’t noticed, this is the friendly community of Alameda, not the lawsuit-happy community of San Leandro.” Brad Cook, speaking in opposition

“This is not about tolerance. This is about the sexualization of young children.” Karen (missed the last name), speaking in opposition

“We should agree to disagree with each other with respect. That is tolerance.” Ray, no last name given, speaking in opposition

“I look at this curriculum, and I don’t see money put toward people of color not being marginalized and disenfranchised and disrespected.” Pastor Dion Evans, speaking in opposition


  • Catie says:

    It saddens me that this has become such a divisive issue. Some of the comments however at both meetings are so sad that they are funny. Reading a book about penguins will not in and of itself make any child become a homosexual.

    If images and stereotypes presented to me in grade school cast the form of my life I would be a heterosexual that never took off my apron and did nothing but cook and sew. If the messages of popular culture from my high school years were going to influence my sexual orientation I would be married to a man, and not my wonderful wife. While cultural influences may alter perception and acceptance, it does not effect biology.

    For those opposed to the curriculum, what are you going to do when my son invites your kid over to play or watch TV? Are you going to ignore that Sam has two mommies, or just not let him come over? Whatever den of moral inequity you may think gay people live in, this ain't it. Like all other Alameda parents of toddlers we are shin deep in Elmo, board books and strollers. My family is not one often presented in the mainstream, and while the curriculum is not perfect, it will help my son's classmates understand that while he doesn't have a father, he has a family that loves him very much.

    Alameda schools are making an attempt to educate also on race, religion, ability and national origin. I applaud that effort, because while social justice should be taught at home, it often is not. We'll see if it passes or not, but regardless the horse has trotted out of the barn, and I for one don't think it will ever go back in.


  • Kevin says:

    "The board’s comments followed roughly four hours of testimony from most of the 101 people who had signed up to speak at last Tuesday’s public hearing on the lessons – testimony that showcased deepening divisions over the issue, with sharper rhetoric, hisses and taunts from audience members and threats that the district would face lawsuits and lose students and that board members would face tougher election campaigns if they okay the lessons."

    As I attended the meeting last night, it seemed many of the "hisses and taunts from audience members" came from supporters of the curriculum in response to opposing opinions made at the lectern. I was dismayed at this, although I was grateful that each speaker–both in support and in opposition–received polite applause (sometimes cheering applause) after giving their opinion. To see such a large turnout by the community over this issue of safety and education for our children was gratifying.

    In response to Catie:

    Although I'm an opponent to the curriculum, I would love for my child and your son to have the opportunity to play at one another's houses, and for her to see a family that is different than hers. That will go further in providing my child the kind of education we all really want her to have–experiencing and relating to families where parents love their children, regardless of one mommy and daddy, or two mommies, or a single-parent. That kind of education empowers her to refuse bullying peers at school, and gives her the capacity to respond to taunts and injustice, not necessarily with vocabulary terms but with real life stories, relationships and friendships that she cares about. An additional difference between this scenario vs. curriculum that is taught in a classroom is that I, as a parent, am involved in her relationships and am a part of the conversation with her as she's encountering the differences she finds in her friends–whether it's race, religion, family situation, etc. It gives my child an opportunity to be with me and observe my example as we relate to her friends and their parents with respect, affection and dignity.

    This is an area of her education in which I want to be involved and I feel like the curriculum deprives me of this parental privilege and responsibility.


  • Kerri L. says:


    I couldn't agree with your post more. Thank you for putting into words exactly how a good number of us feel.

  • Andy Currid says:

    “Homosexuality is influenced by environmental factors”

    And no doubt NASA will confirm next week that the Sun does in fact orbit the earth.

  • Leland Traiman says:

    Alameda School Board Chairman Mike McMahon demonstrated his ineptitude in running a fair and democratic process at Monday evening's public hearing. I showed up on Tuesday, May 12 to address the Board about the Safe Schools curriculum. I could not get into the meeting because of the overflow but, like most people who supported the Safe Schools curriculum, I could not get a speaker's slip because those opposed to the Safe Schools curriculum had taken handfuls of slips and passed it out to their supporters.

    When the public hearing reconvened on May 18 we were told that no new people could sign up to speak and only those who signed up on the previous Tuesday could speak. Yet, one of the District employees admitted that she gave out large stacks of slip to some people, not one per person. It soon became apparent that there were five anti speakers for every pro speaker. When one speaker actually admitted that she had not been present for the first meeting Chairman McMahon simply allowed her to continue speaking. I stood up and said this ways neither fair nor democratic because I was at the first meeting and could not speak yet the speaker, who admitted she was not at the first meeting, was allowed to speak. I stated that the process had been corrupted because some had take handfuls of speakers slips. Rather than addressing the unfair and undemocratic process Chairman McMahon had me ejected from the meeting.

    The District knew that the process had been violated before the meeting and one of the speakers admitted it. Yet, Chairman McMahon did nothing to address the situation. That is not a democratic leader but someone unsuited for public office.

  • David Kirwin says:

    Patricia Sanders, president of the Alameda Education Association, said the teacher’s union supports the curriculum.
    … I’d like to ask Pat why the teachers she represents have not done enough in the 8 years since the BOE passed the Anti-harassment, anti-bullying policy. What kind of training have they received? It seems middle and high schools teachers especially need the support of specific AUSD approved methods to deal with these issues.

    “Supporters, some of them parents in same-sex relationships, told stories about their children being marginalized in school and hurt by the characterization of their families as being wrong. They said their families need the same positive visibility in schools that the other groups already get.”
    – Are they including the amount of recognition Mormons, Moslems, Mongolians, Central Americans, and Chechnyans get? Does anyone think the LGBT community has a right to be placed on a new pedestal, just for being gay? It should be a non-issue, or a non-political issue… and that does not make them invisible. By “non-issue” I don’t mean ignored, and we can show gay families in the readers without making positive or negative value judgments. Because teachers are as divided as the community at large, how will the militantly pro- LGBT teachers be limited in what they say to children?

    “Others spoke to what they said are the consequences of anti-gay bullying”
    – Obviously the teachers are not abiding by a ‘zero tolerance’ for bullying. How Come? I agree that teachers may need more training, but this curriculum is not the training they need. Many speakers spoke in support of other anti=harassment programs. It is not “this or nothing”.

    “We’ll never get to the point of everyone being equal if we try to pretend that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people don’t exist.” Teri Kennedy, speaking in support”
    – No one is trying to pretend they don’t exist. Even the Latter Day Saints have brought books to Superintendent Vital for little kids that recognize (in a positive, non-judgmental way) LGBT families. Maybe not enough people know this, but there are ways of teaching inclusion without violating the Constitutional rights of others. That’s the common ground.

    ““I’m disturbed that well-organized members of the community want to teach my children that my family is immoral … invisible … that we don’t share the same love they do.” Anne Mania, speaking in support”
    – Others are disturbed that well-organized members of the community want to teach their children that their family religion is “wrong”.

    “Homosexuality is influenced by environmental factors, including lessons at school.”

    – …So is heterosexuality.

    We should agree to disagree with each other with respect. That is tolerance.”
    – ..Amen brother, but we still want to do more so that all of our school children feel safe and welcomed in our schools. But we need to look at other options for action, and we need a group representative of all of our community to get a fair assessment. We obviously can’t have just one of the 5 legally protected classes of people determine what is best for everyone.

  • Lee says:

    As an opponent of the curriculum I would also like to address Catie’s remarks above. Yes, if your son was to invite my kid over I also would be happy let him go. I agree with Kevin that it would be a good for a child to make friends regardless of difference in family structure. The fact that family structure is different has no bearing on such a decision. In fact having gay friends (as I myself have) would allow a child to to see that other kids with two moms or two dads are just like they are. It will indeed empower him to stand up against bullying because having such relationship will help him understand that everyone should be treated with respect. I would be proud to see a child defend his gay friend if that was the reason he was being bullied!

    What got me upset last night at the meeting was that there were many supporters that were accusing the opposition as people who just wants to keep out gays and lesbian from the mainstream. By saying over and over that the supporters of the curriculum were “parents who are for justice and for equality”, I had to think what is he/she implying about people who are opposing the curriculum?

    I have to respectfully refute that statement because almost every supporter I know and spoke to regarding this issue had the same stance as the one Kevin has above. We are for equal treatment. We do want our children to treat all people equally and respectfully. We do want all the children not to bully others for any reason and to learn about gay families and relationship. However we oppose the curriculum based on other factors.

    The reasons I personally oppose this curriculum are..

    1) the curriculum is under the pretense of school safety and preventing bullying yet not even the majority of the material is actually about bullying. I want a more effective curriculum that centers around bullying and teases and is more comprehensive!
    2) the curriculum is causing a lot of controversy with heavy opposition and that fact alone should alert the board that it should either be held back or revised. (why pass something so many people oppose? doesn’t make sense).
    3) I am afraid of the backlash the passing of the curriculum will cause. How is the district going to defend itself from lawsuits? Where is that money going to come from?
    4) I think the schools are better served allocating time and money to training the teachers in proper intervention and adopting a strict zero tolerance policy.
    5) But lastly, and the main reason I oppose the curriculum. It Impedes on the right of the parent to choose the WHEN and the HOW when it comes to discussing very personal topics such as family, relationships, sexuality and so on. Honestly if this curriculum was for high schoolers or students who are older who have already discussed such things with parents or are better equipped to handle it I would be far more open, but 6-7 years olds? The school doesn’t have the right to bring up topics that is seemingly very personal to many parents. Anything to do with sexual orientation or bringing up “hate language” or for some what is considered a moral issue – is completely in the right of the parent. Again I am sure the opponents of the curriculum are all for teaching their kids about gay relationships but I believe it is the parents right to decide how to share that with their child, not the schools.

  • Gumpshn says:

    I support the Alameda School Board in their work and their ultimate decision.

    The process has been protracted and difficult and they have conducted themselves

    in a manner that has been "fair-minded" and patient.

    I may or may not personally agree with their ultimate decision but stand by their

    process in handling this well.

    I would vote for each of them again as they have earned my respect.

  • Serena D. says:

    Mr. Traiman, your fury at the speaker who was allowed to speak is misplaced. You were leaving the auditorium and may not have heard her, but she explained that she was one of the number of "overflow" attendees at the May 12th meeting who was asked by the police to leave. She did show up, she did put her name on the list, but as there was no seating left in the chamber, she and many others had to leave.

    I attended the May 18th meeting and put my name on the list as a new speaker, but ALL speakers from the prior list were in line ahead of me.

  • Jill says:

    Whether it happens now or later, eventually tolerance for LGBT (I hope I got the letters right) people will be taught in the schools, just as tolerance for people of different races and religions has been taught for the past few decades. And whenever it happens, it'll be just part of the school day for the kids, unless their parents make a big deal about it in front of them. Relax, people, and let this happen; for the percentage of the population whose families are all conventionally straight, this is going to be really minor. The curriculum doesn't convey that there is anything wrong with heterosexuality. But for the people whose families aren't 100% straight, this is a very important issue to them personally. Opposing the curriculum is just being mean to them.

  • Karin says:

    A lot of folks have expressed that they want to teach their children about the terms LGBT and different kinds of families on their own rather than having the school do it. Initially I also had concerns particularly about the 5th grade curriculum. But then I looked back on myself in 5th grade. My parents never once in all my growing up years discussed sexuality with me, much less the meaning of gay and lesbian. My mother’s idea of a discussion in my high school years was along the lines of, “Don’t ever allow yourself to be alone with a boy in a room. And don’t ever lean against a boy as it might get him bothered.”

    How grateful then was I to receive some very basic information on human sexuality in 5th grade. If I hadn’t, I might have been as ignorant as my own mother on her wedding night which was when she learned about sexuality in a very, awkward, painful, and embarassed manner from experiencing it with her husband. When I look at myself in 5th grade, I do think that I would have appreciated at least knowing what the terms gay and lesbian meant, as I had confused ideas about it even through high school. For instance, by hearing it just furtively mentioned by my peers in a deprecating or giggly manner, I thought it was something new to our generation that people were experimenting with and didn’t realize that it had existed since the beginning of humanity. I think that if I had learned a little about it from my teachers, I wouldn’t have been so confused or initially prejudiced. It’s great that people want to talk about it with their kids, but what about the kids with parents who won’t talk about it? Those kids are left with the giggly whispers.

    A lot of folks are also saying that zero tolerance for bullying is the solution. But as one of the student speakers pointed out, kids behave very differently in front of adults than around each other. Bullying usually happens out of sight, and the person being bullied often doesn’t want to tattle for fear of retribution. Zero tolerance for bullying means that the bullying already happened. Education helps the bullying from happening in the first place.

    In the case of the two eleven year old boys who committed suicide in April because of being teased about being gay, my understanding is that at least one of them came home, greeted his mother as he usually did, and just went upstairs to his room to hang himself. How much inner pain must those children have felt that they couldn’t bear getting up and gonig to school even one more day. It is for their sake that I support the curriculum.

  • David Kirwin says:

    Tolerance for all people IS taught in the schools now. This proposal is way more about parental influence on both sides than it is about the kids. Kids aren’t concerned about the sexual orientation of other kid’s parents – it’s not on their radar. This curriculum would make it an issue. This curriculum would work against the stated goals.

    The LGBT community has to learn they can’t determine what will be taught to all children just as the religious fanatics can do it either. That’s what’s fair.

    You can correctly say that kids are taught about religion in AUSD. My 6th grader went on a filed trip to 3 religious facilities – the new Cathedral of Light in Oakland, A Jewish Temple and the Buddhist Temple in Alameda. Those 3 organizations did not organize the trip or determine what the kids would be taught, and 6th graders are less impressionable than K-5’ers. Would you be okay if Evangelical Christian Organizations decided what they were going to teach your K-5 kids in school about what is “right” and “normal”? If AUSD staff proposed having Evangelical Christian Organizations determine such a curriculum for our K-5’ers, I’d be ballistic about that too.

    To be fair, moderate, honest, open, tolerant, and any other positive spin you want to add, members of the opposing camps MUST be willing to find the lessons that are not objectionable or violating the 1st amendment rights of others. That is what mutual respect is all about.

    AUSD administration really screwed this up badly. Last year when this idea of a K-5 Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Curriculum came to light, AUSD told concerned parents that they would be able to participate in putting the curriculum together – AUSD administrators failed to mention that they had already been working on it for over a year. AUSD Administration then tried to say the new curriculum was mandated by law – another untruth. When the assistant superintendant held public informational meetings on the curriculum, she repeatedly omitted vocabulary for the different grade levels that were most objectionable; and she did this AFTER it was pointed out to her. AUSD teachers who volunteered for working on this made it very clear that concerned parent must be immoral and that the teachers would teach what they wanted regardless of the parent’s beliefs or wishes. Ms Rossiter, principal of Franklin Elementary brought in a transsexual to teach young elementary students about sex changes and his/her process of doing it. Ms Rositer said she did not warn parents of this because she knew they would be upset. I’ve heard reports of her and another principal saying they were going to teach the curriculum regardless of the way the BOE votes.

    Recently AUSD staff has said that Berkeley Unified has lessons similar to this proposal, which is also untrue – there is no curriculum taught to ANY grade at BUSD – they just have the Gay / Straight Alliance in middle and high school just as Alameda schools do. (Isn’t that teaching tolerance? Or doesn’t it matter to the LGBTs because that bit of truth doesn’t further their intent of pushing this proposal?)

    Is there any question in your mind why so many people are upset and untrusting of AUSD staff right now?

    AUSD Staff must be forced by the BOE to be open and honest with our community. Current behavior bodes ill for the future of our schools. From this week’s state ballot it is plain to see most voters are sick and tired of deception, half-truths, and broken promises. No longer are voters allowing their representatives the freehand to abuse the trust of voters. The BOE must appoint a balanced committee to work on a way to work on the anti-bullying curriculum which tries to meet the needs of all. We also need to especially protect our older students. And just as we must be cognizant and respectful of gays as a valued part of our community, we also need to do the same for the handicapped who are most often overlooked, excluded, and “invisible”.

    I was taught to be respectful of all people, and it did not require different lesson plans for different races, nationalities etc. Gays were not treated differently, likely I often did not know as it would be almost aberrant to go around asking people their sexual orientation, it is not supposed to be an issue. Different though with the handicapped. Usually a handicap is apparent. Nobody ever taught me what it is like to be physically or mentally handicapped and my concern to be polite, or at least not rude, left me feeling my only option was avoiding handicapped people, and so I have missed a lot of good opportunities to engage with other valuable members of our society. Since my student days in K-12 “mainstreaming of the handicapped has desegregated the schools as well, so I hope a proposed curriculum will also teach all students to be comfortable and interacting with the “other-abled” children.

  • Jill says:

    Mr. Kirwin,

    The phrase is "disabled," not "handicapped," and our country has spent literally billions of dollars changing everything from busses to street curbs to accommodate them to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act. I'm not sure how you got the idea that the disabled community is "invisible." I'm also not sure what your point is.

    While I'm glad to hear that you were oblivious about homosexuality when you were a child (so was I, even though we had two houses on our street that were occupied by folks everyone referred to as "the bachelors"), I don't think even you can possibly argue that everyone is as oblivious or as polite to others as you were. If that were the case, this educational program would not even be on the table.


  • David Kirwin says:


    While homosexuality, like religion may be "invisible" to another person, that is not the use of "invisible" to which I am referring. As some have pointed out the "invisibility" the homosexual community is trying to address is that there are not enough early readers in our classrooms that show families with two mommies, or two daddies. While there are such books, and I may agree there is a need to increase the availability of those books in our classrooms. (This is not addressed by the current proposal, but members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have brought such books to the superintendant for inclusion in our classrooms – because inclusion; "breaking the 'invisibility'” is possible without value judgments, and is not being contested like the rest of the proposal.)

    My reason for expressing my concern of this type of 'invisibility' for the "other-abled", is now they are being mainstreamed in our school community, and at greater expense than when I was a kid and they rode 'the little bus' for that "separate but equal" education. I think despite its great expense in terms of tax dollars, it is good that the 'other-abled' are in the 'mainstream' facilities, but they may be more ostracized by their handicap than kids who come from families with homosexual parents, or who in high school determined and announced their own homosexuality, or kids with divorced parents or incarcerated parents. Even 'normal' kids with chair-bound, or otherwise handicapped parents, may feel like outsiders because other school age kids don't know how to ignore or accept the 'visible' considerations of disabilities if it is not taught in our schools.

    This proposal does not address this issue either.

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