Same-sex discussion bothers parents

Draft counseling curriculum refers to homosexuality

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2005

Some Juneau parents don't like a draft counseling curriculum for the elementary schools that refers to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

They're also bothered by a passage that refers to same-gender families.

"I think we're going a little too far here at the elementary level," parent Chris King told the Juneau School Board on Jan. 4. "For one, we're implying sexual behavior."

The curriculum isn't specifically teaching sexuality, "which is where there's some confusion," said Kimberly Homme, the district official who is facilitating the counseling curriculum committee.

The elementary curriculum is part of a draft curriculum for grades kindergarten through 12. It was presented to school site councils in November and December. It has not yet been brought to the School Board for approval.

The two passages that bothered some parents are in a section on helping elementary students acquire interpersonal skills.

Specifically, the first passage calls upon students to learn about acceptance, tolerance and respect for individual and group differences. It then lists a variety of differences, not meant to be all-inclusive, such as students with special needs, the sexual identities mentioned above, and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The second controversial passage asks students to recognize and respect differences in various family configurations - for example, adoptive, stepfamilies, same-gender and single-parent.

King told the School Board it's good that people have different beliefs and values, and the curriculum should teach respect and kindness to all students, and to treat everyone as equals.

But teaching the concepts of "good touch, bad touch" is enough for elementary students, King said. The curriculum shouldn't "plant seeds of curiosity," she added.

Counselors don't touch concepts of sexuality in the elementary schools, except in terms of personal safety, said Michele Ricci, the counselor at Harborview Elementary, in an interview.

Elementary school counselors don't raise the topics of sexual identity or sexual relationships, she said. But having those categories listed in the curriculum would remind counselors of the sorts of differences students might see in their lives, she said.

If students bring up the topics to counselors, the counselors would feel free to discuss it because of the curriculum, she said.

The school district's policy against discrimination and harassment specifically mentions sexual orientation as one of the protected categories, Ricci noted.

King also said that teaching tolerance and acceptance of same-sex families goes against the type of marriage the state allows, which is between a man and a woman.

"As citizens, it is our responsibility to honor, sustain and obey the law," she told the School Board.

It's important to include all family configurations in the curriculum because the students belong to all types, Ricci said.

A lot of teasing among schoolchildren stems from their differences, Ricci said. Children develop a sense of what is different about themselves. Counselors talk to students about how to notice and appreciate the differences in themselves and others, she said.

King, Sara Pierce and other parents also have asked the school district to include parents on the curriculum committee.

Pierce told the School Board that parents have the right to be informed about how their tax money is being spent and have a say in it.

When the curriculum was first being developed two years ago, six community members or parents were on the committee, which met several times, said Homme, the committee's facilitator.

When the district realized it didn't have the funds to buy materials to implement any new curriculum, the committee stopped meeting. But counselors, who meet regularly anyway, continued to work on the curriculum and produced the draft.

Meanwhile, the district received a federal grant for elementary school counseling, some of which will be spent on materials.

Homme said the large curriculum committee will reconvene in February or March to address public comments, most of which echoed King's concerns, and to continue working on the curriculum.

She is contacting the previous community members to see if they want to continue. If there are any openings, other parents may apply to join the committee, she said.

Parents who aren't on the committee are welcome to sit in on the meetings, Homme added.

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