The Montgomery County, Maryland, school district — perhaps best known for its litigious row over sex ed curriculum — has adopted a policy that bans all R-rated movies from high schools and all PG-13-rated movies from middle schools. Many schools across the country require students to obtain parental permission before viewing classic movies such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or “Romeo and Juliet.”
Some teachers and parents have qualms about the new policy.
From the local Gazette:
Teachers wonder if the regulations are going too far by banning films that have long had a place in their classes.
‘‘A lot of films we are used to showing are going to be pulled from the shelves,” said Blum, who heads the English department at Quince Orchard. ‘‘… [These are] films we’ve shown for years that met other regulations that were in effect.”
Administrators say the changes stem from a routine review of regulations by the school system’s leadership team, which meets every other week.
The team comprises the three deputy superintendents, five associate superintendents, six community superintendents, three union presidents and other senior staff members including the superintendent’s chief of staff and the director of the Public Information Office.
Policy on evaluating and selecting textbooks, library books, films and other instructional materials is set by the school board. The leadership team sets the rules that make up ‘‘the nuts and bolts” of the policy, explained Brian K. Edwards, county schools spokesman.
‘‘The leadership team did not feel that it was necessary to show R-rated movies as part of the instructional program,” he said.
The old regulations asked teachers to consider ‘‘grade appropriateness” in evaluating whether a film was appropriate for their students.
‘‘We’re not looking for any list of videos,” said Jody Leleck, associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional programs. ‘‘We’re just giving schools guidance.”
Leleck compared using videos to going on field trips.
‘‘I always, as a principal, questioned the use of videos,” she said. ‘‘What value is it adding to instruction? What’s the link to the curriculum?”
The Baltimore Sun opinion editors also express discomfort with the wholesale censorship of movies that might challenge students’ minds.
By any standard, Schindler’s List is a terrific film. It’s a moving account of Oskar Schindler’s efforts to save Jews from Auschwitz by employing them in his factory. Critics have lauded it as the finest movie ever made about the Holocaust. The American Film Institute named it as one of the top 10 films of all time. But you won’t find Montgomery County high school seniors watching it in class.
That’s because they can’t. Schindler’s List is rated R. And under a new policy, high schools can’t show R-rated movies, nor can middle schools show any movie rated PG-13. Not if it’s a classic like Schindler’s List. Not if a teacher decides it would enhance a lesson. Not even if all the parents in the county signed permission slips saying it’s perfectly fine by them.
Such a policy defies common sense. And when it’s imposed by Montgomery County Public Schools, one of Maryland’s most progressive and well-regarded systems, it seems all the more foolish. What’s next? Is Macbeth out? Othello? Hamlet? All great plays by William Shakespeare - and all made into movies rated R.
School administrators say their decision was not in reaction to any criticism, but a concern that movies should only be used when appropriate - and that means age-appropriate, too. While we share that concern (lesson plans in June’s waning days are notorious for their DVD content), why make it absolute? Surely, teachers can recognize when a movie has educational value - and when permission slips should be sent home.
This isn’t the first time classroom content has come under scrutiny in Montgomery County. The system was sued over its sex education curriculum, which it subsequently withdrew last spring. A spokesman says the decisions over movies and sex ed are unrelated, though it’s not hard to imagine the lawsuit having a chilling effect.
But that’s when we rely on our public schools to stand up for educational principles. The distance between banning classic movies and banning classic books is not long. In school systems across the country, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is one of the most frequently banned classics, but not in Montgomery County — unless, of course, it’s the 1992 version starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. That movie was rated R.
From the Deseret Morning News:
Two months after a gay-straight alliance club started meeting at Provo High, a state senator said he plans to run a bill in the 2006 Legislature that would prohibit such clubs in Utah’s public high schools.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, already taking on the public school establishment with legislation to require schools to teach a religion-based alternative to the theory of evolution, is now aiming at high school gay-straight alliances as well. His effort is backed by the conservative Utah Eagle Forum.
“I’m concerned about gay clubs,” Buttars said Wednesday, a day after opening a bill file regarding extra-curricular clubs. Buttars said his goal is to ban gay student associations from meeting on public school property.
“In my mind, if you are in the chess club, what do you talk about? Chess,” Buttars said. “If you are in the dance club, what do you talk about? Dance. If you are in a gay club, what do you talk about? I just don’t believe members of sexual orientation clubs should be sanctioned by the public schools — what they are talking about even a part of the public schools. They should not be allowed to have that on school property at all. It’s just wrong.” […]
“Oh, that silly Sen. Buttars,” said Dani Eyer, executive director of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “What would we do without him? He just doesn’t have a nuanced concept of constitutionally mandated fairness and freedoms.” […]
In 1995, a group of East High students asked to form a gay-straight alliance, resulting in a firestorm of debate over homosexuality. The Salt Lake City Board of Education responded by eliminating all non-curriculum clubs, a move that took out groups including Young Republicans and Students Against Drunk Driving.
Students protested. The Legislature held a special session to discuss club restrictions. National headlines and lawsuits ensued. The district won one federal lawsuit challenging club policy. But in a second, a judge ruled it must allow People Respecting Important Social Movements (PRISM), which students wanted to create to discuss issues affecting the gay community, until the lawsuit was resolved.
The school board in 2000 allowed all clubs to meet either as curriculum-related “school clubs” or extracurricular “student clubs,” essentially ending the fight.
The article continues, at length.
From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The co-editors of the student newspaper at Everett High School sued the school district Wednesday, claiming officials are violating their free-speech rights by demanding to review editions of the paper before distribution.
The editors, Sara Michelle Eccleston and Claire Marie Lueneburg, argued in their lawsuit that since 1989 the paper, the Kodak, has served as a public forum for students, with no content oversight by school administrators, and that as such, the district’s ability to demand editorial control is severely limited.
But district spokeswoman Gay Campbell said there has been consistent school oversight of the newspaper, and that the district has an explicit policy allowing prepublication review.
“We’ve complied with the law in every way,” she said. “We’re sorry the students have decided to take this course of action.”
Mitch Cogdill, the students’ lawyer, said the root of the controversy is that the Kodak reported on the hiring of the high school’s new principal, Catherine Matthews, who took over this fall. Matthews was the third choice of the students on the hiring committee, and the Kodak ran articles suggesting their voice was ignored.
In October, Matthews told the Kodak staff that the paper couldn’t be published unless she approved it in advance. She also objected to the masthead, which identified the Kodak as a “student forum,” the lawsuit said.
Eccleston, 17, and Lueneburg, 18, refused to submit to prepublication review. They appealed to the superintendent and the school board, to no avail.
“No principal had asked to review it before, even though it is provided for in the policy,” Lueneburg said Wednesday. “All of our options were kind of used up.”
The Student Press Law Center provides this explanation of school administrators’ right to censorship (or lack thereof):
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision, gave public high school officials greater authority to censor some school-sponsored student publications if they chose to do so. But the ruling doesn’t apply to publications that have been opened as “public forums for student expression.” It also requires school officials to demonstrate some reasonable educational justification before they can censor anything. In addition, some states (currently Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts) have passed laws that give students much stronger free expression protection than Hazelwood. Other states are considering such laws.
The Montgomery County (MD) sex ed battles are heating up again. This time, the reactionary right is rallying its troops over the prospect of The Gay Thing being acknowledged in classrooms.
From the Washington Post:
The e-mail that landed in mailboxes throughout Montgomery County was provocative:
“DID YOU KNOW . . . . ‘’ it read in big, bold type. “Three organizations supporting homosexuality as natural and mainstream were appointed to the NEW Citizens Advisory Committee?” and “Homosexual advocacy groups are targeting Montgomery County children and families?”
On one hand, the missive, sent out last month by members of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum (CRC), was just the latest in a series of skirmishes between the parents group and Montgomery County public schools. But the note — advertising a CRC workshop — also shows how educators’ efforts to talk more frankly about homosexuality are raising alarm among those who believe such topics are taboo in U.S. classrooms.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the threat of AIDS and concerns about sexually transmitted diseases forced educators to grapple with the controversial question of whether to distribute condoms to teens. Today, it is homosexuality fueling the debate, as more school systems show a willingness to go beyond a cursory discussion of what it means to be gay, to allow students to form gay/straight alliance clubs and to make accommodations that allow same-sex couples to attend school dances. The battle, both sides say, is likely to intensify.
“It is the new flashpoint,'’ said Jeffrey Moran, chairman of the history department at the University of Kansas and author of a book that chronicles the history of sex education in the United States. “Homosexuality has played a big role in the resurgence of attacks on sex education.'’
For groups that endorse self-described traditional values when it comes to education, such as Liberty Counsel, which has worked closely with CRC in its fight against the Montgomery public school system, and the Alliance Defense Fund, the mention of homosexuality invokes charges that advocacy groups are using the schoolhouse to push a “homosexual agenda” on children.
“It’s an adult-driven agenda to indoctrinate students,'’ said Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. “The schools have become kind of a ground zero on the homosexual agenda.”
Added Michelle Turner, president of CRC: “Why does the school system believe it’s up to them to tell kids [homosexuality] is natural or the same as heterosexuality? Why are schools not promoting religious tolerance?”
Groups such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which founded a national Day of Silence — in which students remain silent for an entire day to demonstrate what they call the silencing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — say their goal is not “indoctrination” but rather promoting a safe environment in which all students feel welcome and accepted.
“We do believe that in this country our schools should be places where all people are valued and respected,”‘ said Eliza Byard, deputy executive director for GLSEN. “To the extent that folks say we have an agenda, there it is.”
The article continues. Read the rest in the WaPo.
Posted by Chris Zammarelli
December 8, 2005 @ 7:16 pm
Filed under: Book Bans
The superintendent of the Carroll County (MD) Public Schools may reverse his ban of Carolyn Mackler’s book The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things after students at Winters Mill High School launched a petition drive to protest the decision.
The superintendent had been offended by a sexual reference and some of the language used in the novel about the struggles of an overweight 15-year-old girl.
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 1, 2005 @ 11:56 am
Filed under: Obscene!
Two Connecticut high schools have forbidden students and teachers from using dirty words…
…And each foul-mouthed slip up will cost the offender $103.
So much for “free” speech.
Students who dare utter words of the sort are paying dearly for their vocabulary. In a bid to rein in out-of-control language — and behavior — city police officers assigned to the schools have started doling out tickets with $103 fines. They have charged about two dozen students over the past few weeks with creating a public disturbance, an infraction.
“We’re sending a message to the parents and to the teachers,” said Sandy Cruz-Serrano, senior adviser to Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry. “We are trying to bring back order to the schools.”
The target of the campaign, a joint effort by school officials and police, is not the casual curser. Context and usage are everything. Students who swear while defying a teacher or school officials are the ones landing tickets.
Keila Ayala, 17, a sophomore at Hartford Public, got one of those tickets when — while handcuffed for taking a swing at an officer — bellowed the f-word in the officer’s face. She is surprisingly supportive of the new policy.
“I have anger management problems,” Ayala said in a quiet moment, admitting the prospect of expensive tickets might help her get a grip on her mouth.
“It’ll stop me from swearing,” she said. “Well, it won’t stop me from swearing, but I won’t cuss at the teachers. The one who is going to pay is my mom. That’s why I don’t want to keep getting tickets because I don’t want to get in trouble with her.”
Parents are on the hook, too. If the youngsters don’t put up the cash, the parents have to pay — or perhaps find the time to accompany their youngsters to court. Failing to respond to the tickets could lead to more serious charges.
“Our heads are spinning with that,” said Sam Saylor, president of the district Parent Teacher Organization. “The kids are really indecent with their swearing and they’re swearing at teachers. This is their way of curtailing it — making the parents pay.”
While the idea of $103 fines bothers some parents and students, officials say it seems to be working. In the weeks since officers wrote up 15 to 20 tickets at Hartford Public and another eight or so at Bulkeley, they said a rare hush has settled into the hallways and classrooms.
With his bright red ticket book in hand, Officer Roger Pearl finds voices lowering around him like a wave as he strolls Bulkeley’s hallways between classes.
Pearl also investigates complaints lodged by teachers and, he said, the students typically admit what they’ve done — or said.
“I don’t like writing tickets,” Pearl said, though he marvels at their effect. “Before, the kids were swearing all the time. It went from many incidents to almost nothing. It’s quiet in the halls.”
In a letter to teachers explaining the tickets, Bulkeley Principal Miriam Morales-Taylor expressed a clear note of exasperation, saying she was struck by the number of “major disciplinary offenses” that teachers wrote up for students who used foul language with the staff.
“Ticketing students for using profanity is a last-resort avenue to send a clear and strong message that foul language is unacceptable and to modify behavior,” Morales-Taylor wrote.
At Hartford High, freshman Glynn Hawes said tickets could be just enough for his pals to learn new ways.
“When you curse, it’s a habit,” Hawes said. “I have friends who are cursaholics. We don’t want to pay for it — especially at Christmas-time. Parents will get involved. Kids here, they don’t have jobs and the tickets are expensive.”
But fellow freshman Aaron Scott Pearson II is more skeptical. Lacing his language with curses to punctuate his point, Pearson declared: “I curse all day.”
Teachers, she said, are reporting a more positive environment. “They’re able to do more teaching and less discipline. … Anything that improves the teaching and learning environment, I support.”
At Hartford Public Tuesday, sophomore Eric King was full of bravado as he and his classmates pondered the merits of tickets for cursing.
“They gave me three of those, but I’m not paying any of them,” the 16-year-old declared, to the delight of his supportive classmates, who said in a chorus that they would not be deprived of their right to use the full spectrum of the English language.
Out in the hall, King modified his story — and his attitude. Turns out he hasn’t actually gotten one of those tickets yet, though he said a teacher threatened to refer him to the school police officer for swearing in class.
King also conceded that he’s worried enough about fines piling up that he’s decided the once unthinkable:
“It’ll stop me from cursing in school. I’ll keep it down. It’s not worth it.”
Being disrespectful to teacher is, well, disrespectful. I’m all for civility and for teaching kids how to act. But a modified cuss jar? Come on!
And further, is there even the slightest possibility that this cuss tax is constitutional?? This is a court case waiting to happen.
From the Hartford Courant.
Posted by Amanda Toering
December 1, 2005 @ 11:26 am
Filed under: Schools
, Ban It!
Yesterday, Chris Zammarelli told you about an Oak Ridge (TN) Superintendent’s decision to destroy all 1800 copies of the student published newspaper.
Today, Superintendent Tom Bailey announced that an edited version of the paper would be distributed instead.
From the Tennessean:
A censored version of an Oak Ridge High School newspaper will be printed after administrators confiscated an earlier edition that they considered offensive, Superintendent Tom Bailey said yesterday.
Administrators at Oak Ridge High School went into teachers’ classrooms, desks and mailboxes a week ago to retrieve all 1,800 copies of the student-produced newspaper. An article about birth control and another on student tattoos and body piercings were cited by administrators as the reason for the seizures.
Bailey said in a statement the edition will be reprinted today without the birth control story and with an edited tattoo story.
The recall of the newspapers sparked debate inside and outside the school and sparked student protests at a board of education meeting Monday.
David Stuart, a lawyer for the student journalists, said they haven’t chosen what to do yet but could file a lawsuit in state or federal court seeking an opinion on whether the seizure violates the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. A court win could yield an injunction against future seizures.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Everett, WA, school officials are taking heat for altering a student newspaper without consulting or informing the paper’s student editors.
From the Student Press Law Center:
School officials printed and distributed an altered version of Everett High School’s student newspaper without the student editors’ permission or knowledge last week.
The administrators’ move is the latest in a fight between school officials and student editors over an editorial statement proclaiming the student newspaper a student forum that the publication’s editors want printed in the paper.
But the version of the Kodak passed out by school officials last Wednesday did not include the statement, said editor Claire Lueneberg. She said she was surprised and disgusted when she found out school officials went behind her back.
“It looks like crap – the paper is a disgrace to the Kodak,” Lueneberg said of the issue. The paper is more than a month late, all the dates are wrong and the photos that were edited to be in color were printed in black and white, she said.
Gay Campbell, a school district spokeswoman, said the district’s move was not about Lueneberg and fellow editor Sara Eccleston’s battle to publish without prior review, it was about getting the issue out to students who have been without a newspaper this year.
The statement the principal is objecting to reads:
The Kodak is a student forum for the student body of Everett High School. We are not subject to prior review by administrators, faculty or community members. Editorial decisions are made by the student editors-in-chief and the editorial board. Our right to free speech is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution and under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Article 1, Section 5. Student free speech is also protected by Everett High School District Policy 3220.
Posted by Chris Zammarelli
November 30, 2005 @ 5:54 am
Filed under: Schools
Oak Ridge (TN) High School administrators seized all 1800 copies of an issue of the student newspaper because it contained an article about the most effective forms of birth control. Superintendent Tom Bailey said the students could reprint the paper if the content was edited to be acceptable to frosh readers.
School officials were also concerned with a picture of an unidentified sudent’s tattoo.
Posted by Chris Zammarelli
November 25, 2005 @ 6:21 pm
Filed under: Book Bans
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne only needed to read one page of The Perks of Being a Wallflower to decide that Stephen Chbosky’s book should be banned.
After reading the offending page, Horne sent a letter to the state’s district superintendents and principals asking them to reconsider having the books in their respective school libraries.
Posted by Amanda Toering
November 18, 2005 @ 11:23 am
Filed under: Schools
Earlier this year, Broward County (FL) schools were mired in a true soul-searching dilemma: Whether to show students a video starring SpongeBob, Big Bird, and others, the purpose of which was to teach tolerance to kids.
In the end, the “We Are Family” video was kept out of Broward classrooms.
The gay thing has come up again in Broward — this time because, well, it simply doesn’t come up.
From the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel:
Broward County public school children are taught the names of their private body parts in first grade. In second grade, they learn that AIDS kills. By high school graduation, they have read about birth control.
But homosexuality appears nowhere in the curriculum. Unless a student asks, it simply does not exist.
How to deal with homosexuality has become a quandary for Broward public schools.
Even though Broward schools prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, administrators prefer to keep issues of gay relationships out of the classroom — even classes dealing with sex, health and social issues.
Broward administrators say they do not want educators mired in the struggle between a parent’s right to shape a child’s social values and a school’s responsibility to produce students knowledgeable enough to deal with the outside world.
“You can’t teach everything and there are some things that we are not in the best place to teach,” Superintendent Frank Till said. “We have to stop pretending that we can be all things to all people.”
Public schools are supposed to provide kids with a basic foundation of knowledge — and that includes knowledge about how to navigate our society. Acknowledging that gay people exist is not the same as teaching kids how to have gay sex. It’s a fact of life. There are gays and lesbians among us. And sometimes, what you don’t say, has much more of an affect on kids than what you do say.
I’m sick of this.
Posted by Amanda Toering
November 17, 2005 @ 12:13 pm
Filed under: Schools
, Ban It!
The school board of Mexico, Missouri (a town whose motto is “Walk Back in Time”), has voted to remove Seventeen magazine from its library shelves. From the Mexico Ledger:
Following an appeal of a decision to retain Seventeen magazine in the library of Mexico Junior High School, the school board reversed a committee’s decision and voted to eliminate the publication from the junior high and high school as well.
Mexico school district parent Marla Fuller first raised these concerns at a public meeting on Oct. 14, where she voiced objections concerning the age-appropriateness and sexually explicit nature of the magazine. Magazine industry surveys say Seventeen is marketed to girls age 12 to 24.
A committee composed of teachers and parents voted to retain the magazine in the library with some restrictions. Only eighth grade students and sixth and seventh grade students with a note from their parents would be able to look at the magazine.
Tuesday night, Fuller appeared with six other parents who shared her concerns, including State Sen. John Cauthorn.
In addressing the board, Fuller, who has no children at the junior high, said the restrictions on the magazine would create more problems. She was concerned that once the magazine was in the hands of an eighth grade student or younger student with permission, there would be no way to stop it from being handed off to other students. Also, she felt the “forbidden magazine” would become a “rite of passage,” made more attractive to students by its illicit status.
Fuller asserted the magazine’s sexual content made it a part of the school’s sex education curriculum, and district policy mandates parents be informed of what their children are learning in sex education. Because the content of the magazine changes every month, she said it was an inappropriate source of curriculum for students.
A quick look at Seventeen’s website provides us with this helpful tip: “Sometimes it seems like it takes forever for your polish to dry. In addition to quick-drying formulas, polishes with sparkles or glitter generally dry faster. Another bonus: Smudges are less noticeable!” Hey, thanks!
A Rhode Island school district is in the middle of a messy battle over a nationally released Hollywood film that was written by a couple of locals.
In 2001, Barrington, RI, local Jon Land and high school senior Jon Thies co-wrote the screenplay for Dirty Deeds, a film that IMDB describes as “an American Pie-like teen comedy.” The film was released earlier this year. Land, who volunteers at a local middle school, showed parts of Dirty Deeds to eighth graders participating in a screenwriting class. All the students’ parents had signed permission slips for the screening.
After the screening, two locals (whose kids apparently weren’t in the class) filed complaints with the school board over the viewing of the film. The school board took a rather ominous action. Says East Bay RI, “A school department review panel decided to ban the film from all Barrington schools forever.”
A former member of the school board has appealed that eternal ban.
Roni Phipps, who served on the school committee from 1988 to 1996, filed her appeal on Thursday, Nov. 10. It stated: “I respectfully appeal the decision recommended by the school department review panel and passed on by the superintendent to the school committee to ban the movie ‘Dirty Deeds’ from being shown in the Barrington public schools. Parents have the right to opt out of an activity for their children, but the schools should not ban/censor those activities which are appropriate and valuable learning experiences.”
One of the original complainants, however, has filed an “appeal” to the decision on his own complaint. Richard Gamache, via the appeal process, has demanded that the school board state whether volunteer Jon Land should also be banned from schools forever.
There’s much more, including a timeline of events, in the Bristol Phoenix.
The Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools forced Ed Youngblood, a teacher for 37 years at South Gwinnett High School, to resign after he showed the movie Elizabeth without permission. (Elizabeth starred Cate Blanchett as Queen Liz the First; her performance won her an Oscar nomination.)
According to the November 16 edition of Studio Briefing, the R-rated movie was shown in an advanced British literature class for seniors. Youngblood said he was given just five minutes to decide whether to resign or face being fired by the school board.
Youngblood’s students and parents in the community are organizing support for the instructor, who was teaching part-time at the school this year. Senior Kyle Tait told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (sub req’d), “Our motto at South Gwinnett High School is ‘First comes learning.’ If ‘First comes learning’ is true, why do you get rid of the guy who holds that motto the best?”
School board spokesperson Sloan Roach said (sub req’d) the school had received complaints about the film being shown in class. She told the Gwinnett Daily Post, “Mr. Youngblood did not ask for a local review of the film prior to showing it, nor did he allow parents the option of opting their students out of the viewing.”
Previously, the school board forced out two special-ed teachers for showing History of the World, Part 1 in class.
Youngblood noted that this was the second time he’s shown his students Elizabeth, which was nominated for seven Oscars. He said, “I didn’t think about it being R-rated. It’s such a good movie.”
Pick a Bale of Cotton is a folk-song I learned as a child. I never found it offensive.
But a mostly white middle-school in Michigan has pulled it from the list of songs for students to perform in concert, following the objections of a black father (of a girl in the school choir) and the NAACP. They say it glorifies slavery.
Black folk-singer Leadbelly recorded the song, and I doubt that he intended to glorify slavery. You can listen to an excerpt of his version of the song here (disc 1.)
« Update: Nov. 15, 2005 »
The blog Mia Culpa has posted disapprovingly a version of the song with the n-word. This isn’t the version I was taught, and it’s not the version they were planning to sing at the school in Michigan.
Halloween costumes and festivities have been banned in schools across the country, reports the Christian Science Monitors. While one jelly-spined school official in Hammond, IN, blamed the costume ban on “public safety,” others admit that they’ve cancelled Halloween celebrations at the request of right-wing activists.
From the CSM:
School principals from Newton, Mass., to Denver find themselves increasingly haunted at Halloween by this refrain: Get out, ye ghoulies!
Bowing to concerns of a wide range of groups - from Christians who consider Halloween to have pagan or satanic overtones to church-state separatists who object to the holiday’s religious roots — some elementary schools are canceling their customary costume parades and Halloween celebrations.
In their place are “Fall-o-ween” events, which take note of harvest and seasonal change but that eliminate all things spooky - or controversial.
“There’s been a steady growth of the number of people and the kinds of perspectives objecting to Halloween, and it’s become a real issue for schools,” says Charles Haynes at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va. “There’s a lot of strangeness around this issue.”
The downplaying of Halloween at school runs counter to the nationwide trend. The holiday is now a $3.3 billion business, as those who mark the season of goose bumps set the mood with decorations, costumes, candy, and party goods.
Though Halloween entered the schools “through a secular door,” as Mr. Haynes puts it, its sometimes-dark imagery — and the gory movies and masks that go along with it — mean that some Christian and Muslim families keep their kids at home that day. Increasingly, those families, which can make up a full 30 percent of a school’s student body, are calling in their objections — and schools are listening.
I know that Eric Jaffa will disagree with me (his previous stance being that schools are for learnin’, which is a valid point).
Let’s not forget, though, that an additional, extremely important element of a public education is socialization. The celebration of Halloween is an important social custom in our society. It’s a tradition that inspires warm-fuzzy nostalgia in parents, who can then bond over the experience with their kids. And most importantly — it’s fun. And harmless.
Halloween doesn’t lead to outbreaks of paganism. It may lead to outbreaks of dental work, but that’s another story.
Generations upon generations have survived Halloween, and so has our culture.
Bring back the silly costumes, dammit, and allow an opt-out for those who are uncomfortable.
The Texas Association of School Boards will hold its annual conference in Houston this weekend. Keynote speakers include US Secretary of Education Margaret “Ban Buster Bunny” Spellings; football coach Herman “Remember the Titans” Boone; and NPR reporter Juan “No Funny Nickname” Williams.
Focus on the Family would also like you to know that the Bible Literacy Project will be attending the conference and convincing local school board members that teaching the Bible in public schools is really, really okay. From FoF’s Citizen Link:
The Bible Literacy Project will present to the Texas Association of School Boards ways the Bible can be taught in Texas public schools beginning today.
The convention, meeting in Dallas through Sunday, will draw attendance from 1,039 Texas school boards. The Bible Literacy Project will be on hand to introduce attendees to the “The Bible and Its Influence,” the first high school textbook designed to meet constitutional standards for public school use.
“It was created to satisfy all constituencies involved in the heated public debate about the Bible in public schools,” said Chuck Stetson, chairman and founder of the Bible Literacy Project.
The textbook, reviewed by more than 40 scholars, can be used in an elective course in English or social studies for grades nine through 12. It provides comprehensive coverage of the Bible’s influence on literature, art, music and rhetoric.
Sheila Weber, vice president of communications for the Bible Literacy Project, said many Texans want this type of curriculum to be available in public schools.
“They do have some public schools that already have and academic course on the Bible,” she told CitizenLink, “and some are looking for ways to do this better.”
Weber added that the curriculum is designed to satisfy First Amendment standards outlined in a 1999 publication called, “The Bible in Public Schools: The First Amendment Guide.”
“It’s a consensus statement on how to teach the Bible in public schools,” she explained. “(It was) signed off by 21 groups including all the teachers unions, the National School Board Association, as well as major faith groups—the National Association of Evangelicals included.
“The value of us having produced a student textbook is that it helps the teacher stay right on task and not veer off from First Amendment standards, nor veer off in other directions with their own opinion.”
The standards dictate that you can present knowledge but not belief, she noted.
“Teachers should not promote belief but they should not denigrate, either,” Weber said. “So our textbook comes at it with the perspective of tremendous respect for faith traditions which consider the Bible to be much more than literature, but sacred Scripture, sacred text.”
Dr. Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said until now, there has not been a Bible curriculum he could recommend to schools.
“Let me say how impressed I am by this,” he said. “It is clear that much hard work and good scholarship have gone into the text. This promises to be an outstanding resource for public schools.”
Weber said the Bible Literacy curriculum meets every standard for Texas schools. There are over one thousand independent school districts in Texas that could choose to use the textbook and offer a course in Bible literacy.
“That’s the case across the nation,” she said. “There are a lot of schools that can autonomously decide to incorporate this as a choice.”
The phrase “will present to the Texas Association of School Boards ways the Bible can be taught” made me giddy with fear. I mean, it’s Texas, right? It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the TASB would offer a break-out session dedicated to teaching the Bible in public schools. (When I attended Texas public schools, we had regular prayers during the morning announcements, and pre-football-game prayers were always broadcast over the public address system.)
Turns out, though, that the Dobsonites’ implication that the Bible Literacy Project is a special invited guest, they’re actually attending the conference as a vendor — meaning they paid for the privilege.
And they’re in interesting company.
Other vendors include:
All Seasons Foam Insulation & Roofing, for all your leaky roof needs; Aramark food service, providers of mystery meat to schools everywhere; Arbor Hill Software, which offers a software package it cryptically refers to as a “discipline management system”; Blue Star Bus Sales; Drip-Tech Waste Management Systems, who’d be more than happy to clean your septic tank… for a price; Handwriting without Tears (??); Interquest Detection Canines, instilling fear in drug-addled teens everywhere; JuicePlus, a pyramid-scheme-based seller of “the next best thing to fruits and vegetables”; Scantron Corporation, purveyor of those evil bubble sheets and the sole reason for the continued existence of #2 pencils; Security Voice, a company that provides suicide hotline services; the Southern Bleachers Company, because no Texas high school is complete without a football stadium; the understaffed Texas Army National Guard, probably just itching to acquire additional grads to send to Iraq; Texas Correctional Industries, providing cheap prison labor in the form of school bus repair, IT services, furniture restoration, uniform manufacturing, and tire repair; and the Stillwell Memorial Home in Waco, which is apparently where old teachers go to die.
In addition to the Bible Literacy Program, other vendors of the religious persuasion include Brigham Young University, which offers a satellite-based independent learning program; Cal Farley’s, “a Christ-centered agency providing residential and in-home services to school aged children and their families”; and Nest Family Entertainment, providing “quality videos that teach the word of God.”
For the record, the TASB describes itself as “a voluntary, nonprofit, statewide educational association that serves and represents local Texas school districts.” That’s public school districts.
What business do groups with religious affiliations have selling their products to taxpayer-funded Texas schools?
Vendor information taken from the TASB’s conference website.
The politically motivated factions who stirred up a controversy over sex ed in Montgomery County, MD, really need another hobby.
Here’s your refresher course in the Montgomery County brouhaha.
The latest snafu: Political group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is considering a lawsuit against the school board. Their argument goes something like this: “Waaaaah, we wanted one of our political representatives to be on the curriculum approval board, but you won’t let us! Mommy!!”
To be fair, CRC was promised a seat as part of an earlier settlement over curriculum that they previously took to court. However, the CRC ignored the school board’s request for three nominees to the board. The provided only one — and she’s ineligible.
And now, they’re threatening a suit.
From the Washington Post:
The day after the Montgomery County school board appointed a new advisory board to consult with educators on revisions to the school system’s sex education curriculum, it appears that board members could be facing a new legal challenge.
Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum said it is considering legal action against the school board for violating terms of an agreement that granted it and another group one seat each on the 15-member advisory panel.
Michelle Turner says Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum will not submit another name. The group’s one nominee is not considered eligible.
Board members last night declined to appoint to the panel a representative from Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, but they did name one from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays despite a dispute with the two groups over the nomination process.
Board members had been slated to make appointments to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development on Oct. 11, but they delayed action to allow the groups more time to meet conditions laid out by the board.
Under the guidelines, community groups seeking a seat on the panel were required to submit three names to the board. The applicants had to be Montgomery residents who had not previously served on the committee.
The groups submitted only one name each.
Last night, board President Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said the board had reconsidered that requirement and approved the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays representative. However, she said members would not fill the other group’s seat.
The group’s nominee, Henrietta Brown, is not considered eligible by the board because she has already served on the committee.
Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said the group will not submit another name.
Meanwhile, a similar battle is brewing in Sioux Falls, SD, and the local Catholic diocese has gotten involved.
From the AP:
NEWARK, N.J. — A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove personal blogs from the Internet in the name of protecting them from cyber-predators.
Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh, to remove personal postings about the school or themselves from Web sites like myspace.com or xanga.com, even if they were posted from the students’ home computers.
Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. But constitutional experts say the case raises interesting questions about the intersection of free speech and voluntary agreements with private institutions.
“There was a student who thought he was talking to another teen, and that was not the case,” said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman. “Young teens are not capable of consenting to certain things, especially when they’re being led along by adults.”
She said the student’s online contact did not involve sexual activity, but such a possibility led school administrators to convene an assembly for all 900 students about two weeks ago to reinforce the online rules.
Are the students banned from chat rooms and instant-messaging as well?
Because an adult could be mistaken for a teenager there, too.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation doesn’t think the no-personal-blogs approach is the best school policy:
Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which champions the rights of bloggers, said there have been several attempts nationwide by private institutions to restrict or censor students’ Internet postings.
“But this is the first time we’ve heard of such an overreaction,” he said. “It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn’t do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation.”
The ACLU doesn’t see a case:
“The rights of students at private schools are far different than those of public schools because administrators at public schools are agents of government,” (Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said). “That’s not the case here.”
Posted by Amanda Toering
October 25, 2005 @ 1:04 pm
Filed under: Schools
The ACLU is on the case of a Vermont middle school student who was prohibited from wearing a shirt critical of George W. Bush. Last year a US District Court judge ruled that the school was justified in ordering the student to cover her shirt, which included the words “Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief” and also featured images of drugs and alcohol. The ACLU is appealing the ruling.
From the AP, printed in the “>Boston Globe:
The message on the shirt called President George W. Bush “Chicken-Hawk-In-Chief.” But it wasn’t the political message that upset school officials.
Rather, the caricature of the president included images of alcohol and drug use. The school’s dress code says students should not wear clothing that promotes the use of drugs or alcohol.
Zachary Guiles was suspended from school for one day. School officials later told him he could wear the shirt if he covered up the drug and alcohol images.
But U.S. District Judge William Sessions ruled the school could not censor the words on the T-shirt, only the images. He ordered the school to remove from Guiles’ record any reference to the suspension.
But the ACLU still feels Guiles’ rights were violated.
“We think the distinction between words and images when dealing with core political speech is a false one,” Vermont ACLU Executive Director Allen Gilbert said.
“The judge said you can censor all drug and alcohol images if you have a policy that says so,” Gilbert said. “That is an unworkable policy that denies students a chance to engage in further, meaningful discussion about the political messages they are trying to convey.”
School attorney Tony Lamb said they were happy with the compromise because they were only interested in blocking messages that promoted drug and alcohol use.
Image from Reopen911.org.
In upstate New York, seventh-grader Rebecca Braiman-Dewey was told to take off her anti-Bush buttons by a teacher’s aide.
Via www.afterdowningstreet.org from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
The Brighton school district is investigating whether it needs to train staffers on First Amendment rights after a Twelve Corners Middle School student was told to remove two buttons bashing President Bush.
As instructed by a teacher’s aide Sept. 28, seventh-grader Rebecca Braiman-Dewey took off the souvenirs she had bought four days earlier at an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.
The buttons read “Impeach Bush” and “Fire the Liar” — the latter showing President Bush’s face with a Pinnochio-sized nose.
The 12-year-old and her mother, Nancy Braiman, charged at the next Board of Education meeting Oct. 11 that the aide violated the girl’s First Amendment rights to freedom of expression. Braiman asked the district to conduct a workshop for all employees on the Bill of Rights.
“I’m concerned about people not being clear on the First Amendment,” said Braiman, a local political activist. “I’m hoping that our school district will take some kind of lead, be an example for the rest of the community.
The Supreme Court has ruled that students have a right to express themselves with their clothing.
Specifically, in 1969 that students in Iowa against the Vietnam War have the right to wear black armbands to school (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist.)
Returning to the school in Rochester, New York:
Superintendent Henry Peris is compiling a report on the issue…
In the meantime, Rebecca Braiman-Dewey, originally planning to wear the buttons only for a week, has made them part of her daily wardrobe — without rebuke.
“Now they’re a really big deal to me, so I’m going to wear them every day.”
The head of the Illinois Press Association has called on education officials to implement First Amendment education in the nation’s classrooms. IPA head David Bennett points to a study published earlier this year which stated that one third of students surveyed thought First Amendment protections go too far.
Speaking at Northern Illinois University before an audience largely composed of senior citizens taking classes as part of the university’s Lifelong Learning Institute, Bennett posed a number of questions designed to show the difficulty in defining the limits of First Amendment rights:
Should records in an ongoing criminal investigation be kept secret? he asked. Should wartime reporters have access to the front lines, a la Ernie Pyle in World War II? Or should they be relegated to the safety of press briefing rooms?
He asked whether the federal government should be able to conduct searches without probable cause as long as they are part of a terrorism investigation, and then prohibit people with knowledge of the searches from talking about them. It’s a scenario allowed under the USA PATRIOT Act, he noted.
In delving into the issue of censorship, Bennett sought to show what would be lost without constitutional protections for freedom of expression.
“We all believe in free expression,” he said. “Censorship is a way of understanding the importance of a First Amendment in a democratic society.”
He also pointed out that in times of national crisis, such as during a war, “the government tightens up what it’s willing to release,” and that enforcing laws that until then had been largely overlooked, such as espionage laws, becomes a priority.
The Illinois Press Association has created a First Amendment curriculum and is trying to get it into schools.
For comparison’s sake, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools claims to have sold its curriculum to over 300 school districts in 37 states.
Posted by Amanda Toering
September 29, 2005 @ 12:15 pm
Filed under: Schools
Mother knows best.
At least, one Arkansas mother knows best.
Fayetteville mom Laurie Taylor thinks she knows which books other people’s kids should and shouldn’t read, and she’s taken her fight to the local school board.
“I’m not a bigot,” Laurie Taylor tells a crowd that seems to believe otherwise. “I’m not a homophobe. I’m a conscientious parent.”
On this warm September night, 300 people have filled the Fayetteville High School auditorium and most of them are anti-Taylor, or at least anti-Taylor’s side in a dispute over certain books in Fayetteville school libraries. She wants these books removed, or access to them restricted. The Fayetteville School Board, seated on the front row of the auditorium, is sponsoring what it calls a town hall meeting to hear from those who agree with Taylor and those who don’t. Taylor is the first speaker, appropriately, since she touched off the controversy with her public objections to what she considers dirty books.
Small and scrappy, she is unintimidated by this mostly hostile audience. It, in turn, is unpersuaded by her, and barely polite. There might have been some booing had not the school board president, Steve Percival, pointedly asked in advance for kind treatment of all speakers.
“I’m totally shocked at how controversial this has become,” Taylor says, perhaps exaggerating just a bit. She seems too bright not to have anticipated a strong reaction to her efforts. “I don’t want to ban anything. I just want to have a say in what books my children can have access to.” According to Fayetteville school superintendent Bobby New, Taylor’s original complaint did ask for removal of books that she found objectionable. She has since fallen back to a more defensible position, proposing notification, to parents who want it, when children attempt to check out books that have been placed on a restricted list by a yet-to-be appointed committee. The student couldn’t get the book without parental approval. Children of parents who don’t want to be notified would still be allowed to read anything they want under her proposal, Taylor says, and their parents would not be bothered. In objecting to her plan, she tells the crowd, “You’re doing to me what you say I’m doing to you” — that is, deciding what’s best for someone else’s children. At the end, she is almost pleading. We have to live together, she says; we need to get along. “We’re a whole. Let’s come up with a decision that fits us all.” The Taylor partisans in the crowd cheer, drawing attention to how badly outnumbered they are.
There’s a simple solution to Taylor’s problem: She can set limits with her own kids. Surely she has enough to worry about without also feeling responsible for other people’s children.
More of the story in the Arkansas Times.
Posted by Amanda Toering
September 22, 2005 @ 11:41 am
Filed under: Schools
Author Chris Crutcher was invited, then un-invited, to speak at an Alabama school. Crutcher’s book, Whale Talk, is a “gripping tale of small-town prejudice delivers a frank, powerful message about social issues and ills.” It contains some dirty words.
And apparently, Alabama parents are convinced that Crutcher can’t deliver a talk to their kids without working blue.
Students in grades 7 through 12 at Clements High School who were scheduled to hear a presentation by award-winning author Chris Crutcher on Monday won’t be listening to the writer’s professional advice after all.
Crutcher’s visit to the school was cancelled this week at the instruction of Limestone County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Carroll.
Crutcher, a family therapist, is the author of numerous books geared toward pre-teen and teen readers. His book, “Whale Talk,” was pulled from libraries in Limestone County schools in March after the parent of an Ardmore student filed a complaint about its use of rough language.
Contacted Wednesday, Carroll said Crutcher’s visit was cancelled because “it’s a controversial issue.”
He said school officials had not told him that Crutcher had been invited to the school.
“When I was made aware of it by someone other than a school official, it was cancelled,” he said.
When asked whether his approval is required for all assemblies and speakers throughout the school system, Carroll said “teachers are required to get approval from the principals” and principals are required to seek his approval “on that type of issue.”
A press release issued Tuesday by Crutcher representative Kelly Halls, said Crutcher’s presentations do not contain harsh language and that CHS Principal Donald Wilson had been assured of this prior to his approval of Crutcher’s visit.
Wilson did not return a Wednesday message left at the school seeking comment.
Halls said Crutcher’s school presentations “are never offensive or distasteful. Nothing he says is inappropriate.”
Crutcher, who according to Halls will make a presentation to selected Athens Middle School students on Tuesday, regards the Clements cancellation as a form of censorship.
“This isn’t about ‘Whale Talk,’” Crutcher said. “It’s about any book that has the potential to offend someone, which is any book.”
Any time a book is challenged in the school system, as “Whale Talk” was, a committee is selected to read the challenged book and make a recommendation on whether to retain or withdraw the book within the school system.
In the case of “Whale Talk,” the committee — and Dr. Carroll — recommended keeping the book on library shelves. That recommendation was rejected and the book banned by a 4-3 vote of school board members.
“I wish some of these school board members knew more about child and adolescent development — or had the information most teachers and school librarians are required to have — before they are allowed a voice in education,” Crutcher said.
Carroll would not offer a definitive answer when asked whether he would have approved Crutcher’s visit if asked in advance.
“Chris Crutcher can do what he wants; it’s a free country,” Carroll said. “He just wasn’t approved to speak in our school system.”
Crutcher will be in North Alabama for several appearances Monday and Tuesday.
On Monday, he will address students in Lawrence County. On Tuesday morning he is scheduled to visit AMS.
Tuesday evening at 6:30 he will make a presentation to which the public is invited at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library at 915 Monroe Street in Huntsville.
For more about Crutcher, or about literary censorship, visit www.chriscrutcher.com.
From the Athens News-Courier.
From the Houston Chronicle:
Lawyers for a woman who was told she couldn’t distribute religious materials on a sidewalk in front of a high school said today that her free speech rights were violated and demanded that the school change its policies.
Janice Colston, 65, of Fort Worth, said she was outside Crowley High School when the assistant principal ordered her to dispense Christian pamphlets at the end of the block, not in front of the school.
School officials said it is a safety concern because students board buses in that location.
“The safety of our students is always going to be foremost in our minds,” said Janet Wynne, Crowley ISD assistant superintendent. “We do allow information to be made available in a central location, as designated by the principal.”
But Colston’s lawyers say the sidewalk is a public forum, and that any infringement upon that right of free speech warrants legal action.
“If there’s one piece of law that’s undisputable, it’s that every citizen has a right to speak and share the gospel on a public sidewalk,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, which is representing Colston.
Colston said she was directed to a spot that offered no access to students as they left the building.
Colston has a point about sidewalks being public thoroughfares. If I had a high school kid, though, I wouldn’t want my her to have to run a gauntlet of activists when walking into or out of school.
Activists should have more common sense — other people’s kids ought to be off-limits.
But the again, getting to other people’s kids seems to be the tactic most preferred by the Right.
It seemed like a great idea. Earlier this year, as they looked for ways to fill the final issues of their award-winning school newspaper, The Kernal, student journalists at California’s East Bakersfield High School came up with what they thought was a winner — a series on LGBTQ issues. The articles would focus on the high school’s LGBTQ students and their individual coming-out stories. They’d give voice to a part of the student body that was rarely heard from before, and hopefully encourage discussion, debate, and acceptance.
A great idea, but there was just one problem — the school principal. East Bakersfield’s administrative leader refused to allow the stories to be published, and in so doing, joined a growing army of educators, parents, politicians, and others trying to keep “homosexuality” out of public schools.
The situation at East Bakersfield High is just one example of how LGBTQ voices are being silenced in schools across the country. In other cases, anti-gay groups and individuals in Montgomery County, MD, have called for the removal of information about sexual orientation from sex-education curricula in county schools. At White County High School in Cleveland, GA, students were prevented from forming a gay-straight alliance. Elsewhere, in states ranging from California to Oklahoma to Wisconsin, groups have tried to ban books by LGBTQ authors or with LGBTQ content from school and public libraries. And, as they’re attempting to do at East Bakersfield, they’ve prevented school papers from publishing stories about LGBTQ issues.
A Result of Ignorance
Schools’ attempts to forbid gay-straight alliances have been especially forceful. School officials in Cleveland, GA, for example, even tried to ban all after-school clubs in order to prevent White County High School’s gay-straight alliance from forming.
Students like 17-year-old Talia Stein, now an intern at the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which works to end LGBTQ student harassment, think the backlash is a result of ignorance and fear.
“When people hear ‘gay,’ they block out the rest and they don’t hear the ’straight’ part of the alliance,” says Talia. “They just assume the club is teaching sex, that we’re turning people gay, and they never try to find out what is actually going on in the club, which is simply education and advocacy around this specific issue.”
Read the rest.
Meanwhile, a couple in Lebanon, PA, are urging their local school board to dissolve a high school’s gay/straight alliance.
Because gayness makes God so angry that he had to go and make a Hurricane Katrina.