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School board debates new anti-bullying lessons

Submitted by on 1, November 25, 2009 – 6:00 am8 Comments

020509_18291School district administrators said Tuesday night that they were unable to meet their self-imposed Thanksgiving deadline to come up with a new anti-bullying curriculum that includes specific lessons to tackle bullying based on race and ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, nationality and sexual orientation – and some School Board trustees questioned whether they should.

The admission came as administrators laid out recommendations for a new anti-bullying curriculum for the Island’s grade schoolers that some feared could erase just-passed lessons meant to reduce anti-gay bullying and harassment. It came before a crowd that was far smaller than those that greeted the board as they debated those lessons, which have been dubbed Lesson 9.

The board is to make a decision on the new lessons on December 8.

“The expectation of the board was to bring back both policy and explicit anti-bullying curriculum, a more explicit curriculum that addresses all protected classes. I believe we tried. Such a curriculum does not exist,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital told the school board. She said the teacher advisory committee tasked with reviewing new instructional materials worked to assemble pieces into something that addressed the board’s expectations.

Instead, administrators recommended that the district add a new set of lessons for grades 3-5, called Steps to Respect, on top of their existing Caring School Community curriculum. And they said they’d work with members of the teacher and community committees that reviewed the materials to come up with a list of books that addressed bullying based on each of the protected classes (see my lead for the list), for each grade level.

The book list could come to the board in February, with teacher guides for the books to be worked on in the spring. The new plan could cost the district $50,000.

Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer, who had opposed Lesson 9 because she said it wasn’t inclusive enough, questioned whether the board would want to spend the time that she said would be needed to do the new lessons well. And Trustee Tracy Jensen asked if teachers who Vital said are not all teaching the district’s existing anti-bullying curriculum would have the time to squeeze in six new lessons each year. Jensen had voted in favor of Lesson 9.

Steps to Respect includes books that address challenges faced by youths based on race and nationality, but Zepeda said that’s a coincidence, and not by design.

Some of the committee members said they’re concerned that the efforts could end up eliminating Lesson 9, instead of building on it.

“The board did not direct staff to retreat from Lesson 9. To drop it now, to me, seems like backsliding,” Zoe Holder, a member of the community advisory committee who favored Lesson 9, told the board.

She said the board should consider including a book called “Open Minds to Equality,” which Zepeda said he didn’t recommend because several of the community committee members opposed its use.

But two members of the committee who had also opposed Lesson 9 said the book lifts some people up at the expense of others. Kerry Cook and Kellie Wood, who served on the community committee, said the book is anti-Christian and that it attacks heterosexuals.

“It is a militant activist manual that was picked to politicize our kids’ classrooms. It’s Lesson 9 on steroids,” Wood said.

8 Comments »

  • Gary says:

    Michelle I don’t understand why you would end your piece with quotes from Kelly Wood and Kerry Cook. They do not deserve any more press. They have only one agenda here and have made it perfectly clear that they will not be satisfied until any and all visibility for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is removed from our educational system. You haven’t heard a word from the LGBT community about excluding the religious community but, the only talk coming from their community is exclude, exclude, exclude.How much more time needs to be spent on this? The time has come for the district to stand up to these bullies and do the right thing.

  • Dave Kirwin says:

    Gary – there is no single “right thing”; it is just not that simple, regardless of what you or I may individually think… The burden for the committee is to find a curriculum that addresses bullying and specifically addresses all six protected classes of people as defined by the Ed Code. So either the curriculum addresses all classes equally, or it must not specifically address any.

    The Caring Schools Curriculum does not ‘specifically’ address any class of persons and instead focuses on character building and tolerance of ALL people.
    “Lesson 9” was something designed by an LGBTQ advocate group and is not part of the Caring School Curriculum. (In fact the CSC publishers may sue AUSD for calling their LGBTQ advocacy material part of CSC. The teacher committee working on this want to keep CSC (sans lesson 9) because it is a good program, it addresses all concerns with non specific language. Even the Ed Code does not provide protection to ‘fat kids’, ‘short kids’ kids who score low grades, or who are always the last chosen for team athletics. For protecting these kids from bullying, (which includes excluding practices) non-specific CSC curriculum is preferred by both the public committee and the separate teacher committee working on the recommendation. The District and the ‘lesson 9 committee’ screwed up with the way they handled creating a new curriculum, and the BOE should never have co-signed the mistake of allowing a curriculum committee to be representative of only one viewpoint. That breach of trust has not been repaired.

    I do give very high marks to Rubin Zepeda, the interim assistant Superintendant for his effort in putting together a very diverse group representing many viewpoints to form this new committee. I also think he understands that the District and the BOE did extensive damage to the community by hurting the relationship of the community to our schools, and he is desperately trying to build a bridge. At this point that bridge is not complete, and I do not think the sitting BOE can possibly pass another parcel tax with the degree of distrust they have created.

    “Open Minds to Equality” is absolutely an inappropriate book for K-5. The books publisher says it can be used for grades 4 -10 or 5-10, but it is very much beyond what I consider comprehendible for almost all elementary students. While I agree with the two committee members – the book does float some anti-Christian ideas, and it could easily be viewed as an activist manual, yet I think the book is thought provoking and could be used for social and analytical discussions and debates for grades 8-10.

  • Gary says:

    David it really is that simple. The right thing to do is not hard. This isn't about view points David. This is about ensuring that our children are exposed to all of the protected classes so they better understand them. The problem here is that Dr. Zepeda was unable to gather a committee that believed that all of the protected classes should be treated equally. Instead there where many on the committee whose agenda it is to keep the recognition of LGBT people out of our schools. What are you all afraid of? Do you really think that by teaching about gay people a 1st grader will grow up to be gay?   

  • Dave Kirwin says:

    Gary you are absolutely incorrect in what you are saying.

    The problem so far is finding an affordable, pre-packaged curriculum that meets the criteria the committee agree upon. The directive given to Ruben Zepeda was that it must address bullying and all of Ed Code's protected classes equally.

    My concern about teaching 1st graders about the meaning of "gay" (meaning homosexual, not happy, joyous and festive) is, at root, a sexual term, beyond the concerns of young pre-pubescent children. Teach all you want about two daddy, or two mommy, single parent, divorced parents, extended family parenting, etc.

    But you see, we have different opinions, and that is the problem. We have a complex community with differing ideas, standards, morals, religions, needs, etc.

    AUSD and this BOE screwed up by letting a committee of one opinion rule the roost on a biased curriculum.

  • Michael Williams says:

    Gary is right: Some on our committee came in with the bottom line that they could not tolerate any curricula that treated LGBT children and families with respect and equality. Their minds were made up and they projected that by spouting accusations that others had an “agenda.” (Never mind that the agenda some of us had was identical to the mandate we were charged with–protection and dignity for all children–while theirs was diametrically opposed.)

    I’ll offer a couple supportive statements about David’s stance:
    1. David, I did not experience you as one of the people on the committee who a priori needed protections for LGBT left out of the curriculum.
    2. It is good that CSC and Steps help address bullying of those kids not explicitly in “protected” classes.

    But Gary is also right to point out that it’s not about viewpoint. We can’t balance a “pro-gay” point of view with an “anti-gay” stance without taking the side of the bullies–any more than we could balance the curriculum with anti-Black or anti-Jewish points of view.

    We have to protect all children to the best of our ability with as much balance as we can. It’s not a matter of address all absolutely equally or none at all. That’s such a slippery concept that effectively blocks all efforts. What’s the standard for equality: Exactly an equal number of books for each class? Or for each category within each class (e.g., Chinese, African American, etc…)? Or requiring books of absolutely equal quality (and who judges that?)? Does it mean, as Trish Spencer proposes, the exact same amount of planning and review time for each group? Is it completely invalid if the teacher committee does not exactly match the demographics of the students? Nothing like throwing up an impossible standard to make sure nothing of value gets through.

    Our teachers are professionals who want to embrace all of our families and children. They felt they had resources around issues of race and gender but were coming up short when addressing homophobic bullying. This all started with their request for help, however awkward the response.

    And just a few thoughts about Opening Minds being “anti-Christian.” The teachers’ intro (not the exercises) posits that Christianity has dominated Western history and oppressed religious minorities. One need only the slightest acquaintance with European pogroms against Jews or the boarding school system that stripped the cultural identity of Native Americans to realize this is true. And I say this as someone raised Catholic and still a believer. We Christians need to approach these things with repentance and humility.

    The student exercises in Opening Minds are more around recognizing bias in favor of the dominant religion in one’s environment. Worthwhile, if you ask me.

    I’ll grant that many activities in Opening Minds are above 5th grade, but it’s a good resource in that it puts individual prejudice in the context of societal bias. We should trust our teachers to use it wisely.

    Finally, continually throwing up threats around the parcel tax issue is, frankly, bully behavior. We all need to say: no matter our disagreements with the district on this or any issue, preserving the education of our children is our shared priority.

  • Kevin Wood says:

    Forget about real anti-bullying in Alameda; fig leaf allegations of safety concerns have long been discredited. We now have incontrovertible proof of our opponents’ subterfuge.

    Activists are poised to wage battle on natural systems that create family; that created themselves. Heterosexuality.

    A husband-wife family remains their penultimate target. The homosexuals, unable to get their way at state ballot boxes, continue local manipulation of the AUSD Board and Kirsten Vital to advance their so-called "equality" agenda. Their goal: elevating homosexuality to the level of and rectitude with heterosexuality.

    How you ask? By cunning and stealth of course! They tried using the District’s Advisory Committee process, purported to engineer a balanced anti-bullying curriculum. These same men and women homosexuals are, activist-teachers in our public schools; all card-carrying members of the militant alameda education association (aea). Their tactics Alamedans witnessed in budget-bursting contract negotiations which burden financially today.

    The aea, long puppets of the ideologically-bent national education association (nea), seeks recommending stilted indoctrination into K-5 based upon “Open Minds To Equality”. Parents and others have chanced to review the text at the Superintendent’s office (we encourage all to review them also). “Open Minds…” is being compared to Lesson 9 on steroids. These activists were most arrogant and insistent of their self-appointed right to determine the curricula alone, and based it on the Open Minds…, 3rd edition. Most certainly now, Lesson 9 was the opening salvo, the trial balloon to instigate overthrowing Caring Schools and installing curricula which even more heavily promotes humanism and homosexuality across K-5 initially, but eventually K-12 as well (I believe).

    My champions, the group of concerned parents, fought fiercely to deter the aea and the homosexuality sympathizers stacked on the advisory committee. Concerned parent and citizen opposition must strong continue into the selection and approval of the books to be used, and the detailed lesson plans themselves. Because this rabbit hole is deeper than even I imagined, persistent citizen resistance and the recall of the school board, is more urgent than ever before.

  • Michael Williams says:

    Unfortunately, Kevin Wood’s (SERVE’s) position reveals the conflict of interest that SERVE members on the Community Advisory Committee brought to the task. If they came with the intent to “[fight] fiercely to deter” people who disagree with them, then any chance at consensus was doomed from the start.

    It also reveals that it will be impossible for the District to appease such an entrenched faction. The Community Advisory Committee was set up in response to demands from opponents of Lesson 9, and their first public statement about it is to call it a sham.

    A requirement for community members who want to be involved in further review curricula should be to commit positively and publicly to support tools for the protection of all of our children, dealing with all protected classes (and other targets for bullying) explicitly.

  • Brian says:

    Kevin:

    Your reply was posted on the SERVE website. Did you just copy and paste it here?

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