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1st-Grade Guide Dealing With Homosexuals Stirs Flap in N.Y.

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Five of New York City's 32 community school boards remained in a standoff with Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez last week over their refusal to use parts of a 1st-grade curriculum guide dealing with gay and lesbian individuals.

Mr. Fernandez has given the districts until the end of this month to either adopt the teachers' guide, called "Children of the Rainbow, First Grade,'' or propose alternatives that conform to the board of education's policy on educating to eliminate discrimination against various groups, including people with different sexual orientations.

If local districts refuse to comply, Mr. Fernandez could overrule them and use central-district personnel to teach the curriculum.

Nevertheless, Districts 8 and 12 in the Bronx and District 31 in Staten Island continued last week to reject the parts of the curriculum guide dealing with homosexuals.

And District 24 in Queens stood by its unanimous vote of six months ago to reject the entire guide as an infringement of the right of parents to teach morals and religion to their children.

"My whole impression of the thing is that it is not an attempt to teach children tolerance,'' said Mary A. Cummins, the president of School Board 24. "It is an attempt by our gay community to proselytize among our 1st-grade children.''

Only District 20 in Brooklyn appeared willing last week to strike a compromise with the chancellor as it made an informal offer to teach tolerance toward homosexuals in later grades where it deems such instruction more age-appropriate.

All Kinds of Parents

Such a policy likely "would be in compliance with the board's multicultural requirements,'' Frank Sobrino, a spokesman for the chancellor, said last week.

The 433-page "Children of the Rainbow'' guide for 1st-grade teachers was developed as part of a multicultural-education initiative adopted by the board of education in late 1989.

A subsection of the guide titled "families'' advises teachers to be aware of and sensitive to issues related to various family structures, including those that include gay or lesbian parents.

"Children must be taught to acknowledge the positive aspects of each type of household and the importance of love and care in family living,'' the curriculum guide states.

Among the books the guide lists as available for teachers to use, personally or in their classrooms, are Daddy's Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, and Gloria Goes to Gay Pride, all children's stories about couples of the same sex.

Two gay representatives were on the 20-member committee that reviewed the curriculum, and the curriculum was lauded by many gay parents, teachers, and activists.

Ed Sedarbaum, the male chair of an organization called Queens Gays and Lesbians United, last week praised the relevant pages in the curriculum guide as "subtly broadcasting to all children that gays and lesbians are among us, they are not outsiders, and all people should be respected for who they are.''

Leaders of the United Federation of Teachers have said that the material may not be appropriate for all children, but maintain that teachers should have access to the material and should be able to use it where and when they think it appropriate.

An organization called Concerned Parents for Education Accountability has formed to oppose the curriculum.

It and the District 24 board have sent letters to thousands of parents protesting attempts to teach acceptance of a behavior they view as deviant. More than a thousand people demonstrated on Oct. 6 outside the chancellor's office, where they were met by counterdemonstrators.

Ms. Cummins, who has also criticized the district's AIDS-prevention curriculum as too explicit, said she is even more offended by the multicultural guide because it is intended to influence the entire curriculum, rather than just a specific sex-education class from which parents can opt to have their children excluded.

"I don't believe that any child should be taught in school anything that is contrary to that child's moral codes or religion at home,'' Ms. Cummins said last week. "That is an invasion of religious freedom and it is also an invasion of the right of privacy.''

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