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Vallejo School Board Votes to Retain Anti-Bullying Curriculum

After hearing two hours worth of public testimony, the Vallejo Unified School District’s board in California voted 4−1 on December 8, 2010 to retain the district’s anti-harassment program, which among other topics teaches tolerance and non-discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.[1] The school district first implemented the program during the 2009−2010 school year as part of the legal settlement between the district and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The district lost in a suit filed by the ALCU in defense of a former district high school student who suffered anti-gay harassment from teachers and staff. The settlement also requires the district to provide mandatory training to all faculty members on preventing discrimination against sexual minorities.[2]
 
Controversy over the curriculum first arose last month when a local parent brought her concerns to the attention of the school board. The parent argued that as a mandatory part of the district’s academic program, the curriculum violated her rights as a parent and objected to the appropriateness of the curriculum’s content.[3] The district’s “Respect for All” program includes three educational videos developed by the media organization, GroundSpark, which address social stereotypes, bias, and prejudice to prevent bullying and promote equality and respect in school environments. The three videos are shown to students in grades K−12 based on education level, including That’s a Family! for elementary school students, Let’s Get Real for middle schoolers, and Straightlaced for high school students. The videos address homophobia among other types of social biases.[4]
 
During the East Bay Area town’s school board meeting on the night of December 8, parents, district staff, community members, and students, both opposing and supporting the curriculum, shared their views. Among those attending, Cheri Hamilton, mother of the student represented in the lawsuit, expressed her support for keeping the curriculum intact based on her daughter’s experience. “I saw how [the harassment] affected her,” commented Hamilton. “She fell into a deep depression. She didn’t laugh anymore. She fell behind in school.”[5] Dissenting parents criticized the district for not instituting an opt-out provision, which would allow parents and guardians to remove their child from the instruction. “Basically my right as a parent is being taken away. You’re going to force this on my kids,” stated parent, Coz Rennicky.[6]
 
Given the school board’s vote, the curriculum will remain mandatory for all students. Interim Superintendent Floyd Gonella backed the board’s decision while speaking to reporters after the meeting. “We do not feel that this is an area that students can opt out and we feel this is an area [for which] we don’t have to give prior notification,” said Gonella. California law requires school districts to “protect students from harassment and discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”[7] “If a school district ignores anti-gay bias in schools, it is plainly violating both state and federal law. These laws are designed, in part, to ensure that all students are able to learn and thrive free from bias,” said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, in a press statement.[8]
 
Along with voting to retain the current policy, the board adopted a series of recommendations in connection with administering the anti-harassment curriculum. Among the recommendations, the board agreed to continue its duty to ensure a safe school environment for all students, including continuing to provide annual anti-harassment training for all staff and to update the curriculum materials on a regular basis. The board also voted to invite parent leadership from each school to assist district staff in reviewing and recommending anti-bullying education materials for parents, to communicate with parents and guardians about district policies and the “Respect for All” program, and to provide opportunities for them to learn about the curriculum.[9]
 
“We are pleased the school board upheld California law and its responsibility to provide a safe school environment free of harassment, bullying, and discrimination for all students,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) . “Given the psychological, physical, and, at times, fatal effect of bullying, it is imperative that school districts protect the health and safety of young people and maintain a school climate in which discrimination and bias are not tolerated.”
 
 

 


[1] Lanz Christian Bañes, “Trustees Won’t Allow Opt Out in Anti-Bullying Curriculum at Vallejo Schools,” Vallejo Times-Herald, 9 December 2010, accessed 15 December 2010, <http://www.timesheraldonline.com/ci_16814677>.
[2] Julia Heffernan, “Board Voted 4−1 Thursday to retain the ‘Respect for All’ Curriculum,” Schooling Inequality, 10 December 2010, accessed 15 December 2010, <http://schoolinginequality.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/board-voted-4-1-thursday-to-retain-the-respect-for-all-curriculum/>.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “The Respect for All Project,” GroundSpark, accessed 15 December 2010, <http://groundspark.org/respect-for-all>.
[5] “Tolerance Program Raises Ire of Some Vallejo Parents,” KTVU.com, 8 December 2010, accessed 15 December 2010, <http://www.ktvu.com/news/26073193/detail.html>.
[6] Ibid.
[7] “High School Student Takes on Anti-Gay Harassment—And Wins: ACLU Reaches Agreement with School District to Combat Bias after Lesbian Student is Harassed by Teachers,” American Civil Liberties Union, Press Release, 18 May 2009, accessed 15 December 2010, <http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights_hiv-aids/high-school-student-takes-anti-gay-harassment%E2%80%94and-wins>.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Lanz Christian Bañes, “Full Text: Vallejo Interim Superintendent’s Recommendations about Anti-Bullying Curriculum,” Vallejo Times-Herald, The A- Blog, 9 December 2010, accessed 15 December 2010, <http://blogcentral.timesheraldonline.com/aminus/>.

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