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N.Y.C. Debate Over 'Rainbow' Curriculum Still Raging in Many Board Races

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NEW YORK--"Pat Robertson has come to town! Defeat the religious right! Save our school boards! Vote on May 4!'' proclaims a brochure issued by People about Changing Education, one of several groups trying to mobilize voters for the upcoming 32 local school board elections here.

Meanwhile, Delores Ayling, the founder of Concerned Parents for Educational Accountability, appears in a widely distributed videotape and purports to quote a gay activist saying " 'We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity. We shall seduce them in your schools, in your gymnasiums, in your locker rooms, in your youth groups.' ''

"Vote for C.P.E.A. candidates for school boards'' to thwart such an effort, the video urges.

This city clearly is not over the "Rainbow'' curriculum. Rather, the debate over the district's "Children of the Rainbow'' teachers' guide, which first flared last year, has continued in many of the community board races.

The controversy over the curriculum, which has focused on sections promoting tolerance for homosexuals, already has contributed to the ouster of Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez. (See Education Week, Feb. 17, 1993.)

Observers here say the Rainbow curriculum is the central issue in about one-fifth of the local board races and a major issue in more than half of them.

At the crux of the debate is the question of how much power the central school board should have in determining how the local boards, which have primary authority over schools below the high school level, address such topics as homosexuality and AIDS education.

Voice on Social Issues

Opponents of the curriculum argue that Mr. Fernandez overstepped his authority in dealing with social issues that, they say, are best left to local boards or parents to address.

"You elect people to reflect your points of view,'' said Edward A. DeCosmo, a spokesman for State Sen. Frank Padavan of Queens. "For someone to say that a local school board should not be involved in such education matters is like saying we should not have legislatures involved in state budget matters.''

As the legislature considers changes in the city school system's governance, city and state officials, including Senator Padavan, want to see local boards and parents given more control over decisions on some social issues now made by the citywide board.

Others do not agree.

"Our kids find it difficult to get up to go to school every day because some of them are homeless, some of them come from situations where there is abuse, and some of them have to duck bullets going to school,'' said Lee Blake, an education adviser to Mayor David N. Dinkins. "Our kids' parents' have AIDS. Some of our kids have AIDS.''

"Anyone who has the responsibility for almost a million children has an obligation to educate the students about how to protect themselves against H.I.V.,'' said Robert Rygor, an office manager for the local chapter of the gay-rights organization ACT-UP.

Mr. Rygor, who is homosexual and is infected with the AIDS virus, is running for a seat on Community School Board 2 in lower Manhattan.

Slates Seek Edge

Grassroots groups can strongly influence the board elections because the voters rank candidates in order of preference, a method that gives an edge to slates, observers here say.

The groups backing candidates include the Campaign for Inclusive Multicultural Education, a coalition of organizations formed in defense of the Rainbow curriculum, and the Family Defense Council, whose head, Howard L. Hurwitz, has called the curriculum "nothing more than pro-gay and -lesbian propaganda.''

At least one group, the Staten Island Alliance for Responsible Education, has formed to help candidates it deems "middle of the road,'' according to its spokeswoman, Joyce Malerba Goldstein.

Local organizers for the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition have said they plan to publish a guide to candidates.

The United Federation of Teachers is monitoring the races and plans to throw its weight against candidates who "are for bigotry,'' according to Naomi Spatz, an aide to Sandra Feldman, the union's president.

Mr. Hurwitz predicted the local board elections also will focus on "the usual issues of class size, the need for better buildings,'' and so forth.

He asserted, however, that such issues "don't amount to anything in terms of why people will be voting.''

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