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Fernandez Moves To Revise Guide on Homosexual Families

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After months of controversy, Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of the New York City public schools has moved to soften sections of a multicultural curriculum guide that deal with homosexual families.

Mr. Fernandez last week described the changes as designed to defuse the controversy surrounding the curriculum while preserving its basic mission--the teaching of tolerance for homosexuals as well as members of various racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

"With these minor changes, we will curb much of the inflammatory rhetoric of opponents, while allaying the legitimate concerns of others who truly support our efforts in multicultural education,'' the chancellor said in a written statement announcing the revisions in the guide.

But it appeared last week that the changes did little to mollify the curriculum's critics in the city.

The revisions in "Children of the Rainbow,'' distributed to members of the New York City Board of Education late last month, are expected to be included in the 1993 edition of the curriculum guide for 1st-grade teachers.

The revisions replace most of the guide's references to "lesbian/gay families'' with the term "same gender couples.''

District officials said the revisions also deleted the 1992 guide's recommendation that teachers include "references to lesbian/gay people in all curricular areas.'' In addition, passages discussing AIDS that were interpreted by the guide's opponents as promoting anal sex were dropped.

The book Heather Has Two Mommies was also deleted from the guide's bibliography because, district officials said, the book was deemed inappropriate for use at the 1st-grade level. The guide continues to contain references to other books that were also controversial, but were deemed age-appropriate by district staff.

Not Over the 'Rainbow'

Through such revisions, "the integrity of the board's position on multicultural education has been maintained,'' Luis O. Reyes, a board member from Manhattan, said in an interview last week.

Ed Sedarbaum, a co-chair of a New York City homosexual-rights organization called Queens Gays and Lesbians United, last week said that if the revisions in the guide are "calming enough'' to enable the district to tend to the needs of children with homosexual parents, "then I am happy.''

"What is essential in the 'Children of the Rainbow' curriculum is that, whatever the compromise is, teachers now need to be trained so that whatever is done is done intelligently and sensitively, without homophobia,'' Mr. Sedarbaum said.

But Michael J. Petrides, a board member from Staten Island, said the chancellor, in portraying the changes as minor, appears more intent on showing he did not back down on the issue than in demonstrating his willingness to reach a consensus.

Among those not satisfied with the changes was Mary A. Cummins, the president of Community School Board 24 in Queens, which recently was suspended by Mr. Fernandez for its refusal to adopt, or submit alternatives to, the curriculum guide.

"In the first place, I don't see that much change,'' Ms. Cummins said. " 'Same gender' parents are homosexual parents.''

"My main objection is still the same,'' Ms. Cummins said. "It is still an invasion of parents' rights.''

The revised version of the curriculum does not give parents the right to remove their children from class when tolerance of homosexuality is taught, Ms. Cummins said. Thus, she said, it still usurps the right of parents to be the primary teachers of their children in matters of religion and sexual mores.

Mr. Fernandez's revision of the curriculum--together with an extensive, favorable self-assessment he submitted to the board in opening his contract talks--were perceived by Mr. Petrides, Mr. Reyes, and others as signaling that the chancellor is seeking to be conciliatory and to stay on after his contract expires in June.

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