The evening after
School 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