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Published in Print: March 6, 2002, as Calif. Parents File Suit On Gay-Themed Skits

Calif. Parents File Suit On Gay-Themed Skits

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A group of parents is suing a California district for authorizing what they call pro-gay skits for elementary-age children without notifying parents.

But the Novato Unified School District says that the skits, part of a larger program to discourage bullying and name-calling, have been taken out of context.

The skits, called "Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry," were performed by a San Francisco-based group, Fringe Benefits, last spring. The group designs performance skits on a wide variety of topics, including tolerance of homosexuality and cross-dressing.

District officials said two schools invited Fringe Benefits to perform skits after receiving recommendations on the group from the Bay Area Discovery Museum for children. One of the skits chosen, they said, centered on a girl who was being teased because her brother was gay. It was shown to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.

The skits were chosen "in light of some tragic things that have happened in schools," said Dainne Pavia, a spokeswoman for the 7,500-student district just north of San Francisco. "Kids do get bullied in schools, and we have to make sure our schools are safe. It was not a pro-acceptance agenda."

Brad W. Dacus, the president and chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, a Citrus Heights, Calif.-based group that filed the suit on behalf parents on Dec. 10, said school officials did not notify parents of the performance.

A group of parents went to the school at a later date and asked why the district had not complied with the parents' "opt out" requests kept on file for keeping their children out of such performances, but the parents were told that "many of the forms were missing," according to the group.

"This is a case of parental rights," Mr. Dacus said. "If school districts are going to go down the path of controversial social engineering, they need to be willing to pay the price for stepping on the rights of the parents of children who attend that school."

Protection vs. Promotion

Mr. Dacus said the institute is also concerned that a school-safety law passed by the California legislature in 2000 could lead districts to adopt pro-homosexual and pro-transsexual instruction.

That law requires districts to protect students from harassment and discrimination, including abuse related to homosexuality, said Bill White, the director of safe schools for the California education department.

But the law does not require schools to teach about homosexual practices, he said, adding, "Novato is charged with doing what is necessary to keep kids safe."

One parent praised the school district for addressing such issues. Grace Bartee, whose daughter was in the 5th grade last year, decided to attend a performance after seeing an advertisement for the event in the school's weekly newsletter.

"This wasn't about sexual education, this was about anti- discrimination education," Ms. Bartee said. "What impressed me was that the skits were not only very age appropriate, they were very diverse."

The skits touched on a range of topics, from racial and gender discrimination to students with disabilities, she said.

For instance, one skit, called "Double-Dutch," showed a boy and two girls skipping rope at recess, she said. Two other boys who were playing football taunted the boy, and refused to allow the girls to play football. In the end, Ms. Bartee said, all the children decided to try out the others' sports.

Another skit was based on true stories of a boy with autism who was being teased by classmates, she said, noting that the skit was written by his mother.

"I didn't see anything about sexual practice or sexual preference," Ms. Bartee said of the program.

Vol. 21, Issue 25, Page 10

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