Harwich Church tries to ban "lifestyles" health classes

Today's story about "Redneck Resistance" in Harwich is nothing new. Questionable links "between church & state" were evident in this two Cape Cod Times stories written four and a half years ago. -Editor

High school students will continue to receive lessons on LGBT issues, despite parent protest.

By Noelle Barton Staff Writer, Cape Cod Times, March 21, 2001

HARWICH -- The school council unanimously decided to support the current health curriculum last night -- which includes a section on tolerance and diversity for juniors and seniors -- and possibly expand it to 9th- and 10th-grade classes.

The decision came in the wake of parent protest over the alleged "alternative lifestyle" lesson, which included a visit to the class by members of the Cape and Islands Gay and Straight Youth Alliance in February. They visited the class as part of the state-mandated Safe Schools program.

The group of parents presented the council with a petition signed by 49 people opposing the program.

In reading a litany of state and federal statutes requiring schools to teach diversity and tolerance for people of all races, religions, genders and sexual orientations, high school principal Robert Krol made the case that the school would be in violation of state and federal regulations if it didn't include the tolerance and diversity section in its health curriculum.

"The law says this is what we should do, but the reason we do it is not just because of the law, but because it is the right thing to do," said John Dickson, a member of the council and a high school government teacher.

Frank Dooley of Harwich spoke for 15 minutes in opposition to the current curriculum, saying the focus of the lecture was tolerance of a homosexual lifestyle, which is "condemned" by most of the world. He called public statements of the opponents of the program tolerant, and those by people who support it intolerant.

"It's a lifestyle contrary to the religious beliefs and the moral principals of the vast majority of the world population," Dooley said. "Where is the authentic need for this program in Harwich? Is there an epidemic of gay harassment that I'm unaware of?"

Dickson responded with his own tale of harassment in his first year of teaching in Harwich because he was perceived to be gay. He put a "LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) safe zone" sticker on his classroom door, and students assumed he was gay. A group of senior boys chanted "LGB" at him as he was introduced at a pep rally. His windows were smashed. "The harassment because I was assumed to be gay speaks volumes for the need of this curriculum," he said.

High school health teacher Angelina Chilaka told the council and the 40 people gathered that the subject of the lessons was not sexuality but harassment. She explained the class is an elective, and students have the option of not attending classes that make them uncomfortable or that they disagree with. She also offered to resume sending a letter to parents at the beginning of the year outlining the health curriculum.

 Second story:

Harwich petition demands notice of gay topics in schools

By Noelle Barton, Staff Writer - Cape Cod Times, June 7, 2001

HARWICH -- A group of Harwich residents affiliated with Holy Trinity Church wants to ban talk of gay, lesbian and bisexual "lifestyles" in school health classes.

In that effort, they launched a petition drive and have collected more than 700 signatures. But the action has created a contentious atmosphere at the church, according to members.

"A petition is only as important as the number of signatures on it," said petition organizer Lloyd McDonald, who is a member of the church. "We thought well, maybe we could get a lot of signatures if we were allowed to have the petitions outside the Holy Trinity Church."

The petition arose out of a controversy earlier this spring when several parents of high school students protested a February health class visit by members of the Cape and Islands Gay-Straight Alliance and the support group, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. At the time, a petition was circulated calling for the removal of the "tolerance and diversity" lessons with regards to homosexuality, but only garnered a few dozen signatures.

The Harwich school council, an advisory group that oversees curriculum, said the program was within the bounds of state regulations on encouraging tolerance of homosexuality through the statewide Safe Schools Program.

The school council agreed to reinstate a policy of sending a letter to parents each year letting them know when the topic would come up in health classes, so parents could withdraw their children from those classes. Sending the letter is in addition to the current practice of listing the curriculum in the student handbook, which is mailed to parents each summer.

The latest petition calls for such notice to be mailed when the contents of a course "may advocate, condone, approve, promote or encourage the acceptance of the gay, lesbian and bisexual lifestyle."

Harwich Schools Supt. Joseph Gilbert, who has not seen the petition, said he supports the action of the school council.

"It's part of the curriculum and we are intending to continue to provide this type of curriculum," he said last week.

Petition organizers have said they will request a meeting with school officials to discuss the petition at some future date, Gilbert said.

Holy Trinity Assistant Pastor Richard Beaulieu, who worked for 25 years in Catholic schools in the diocese of Fall River, said the situation "certainly created some discussion" among churchgoers but that it has strengthened the community.

Petition draws opposition

"It sounds to me like there was some miscommunication here," he said of the fact that petitioners request notification of homosexuality discussion in classes -- a request the school council has already agreed on.

"It is a question to me of the parents' right to know what is being taught in sex education in the schools. They have a right to that and if they object, they have a right to object."

Church member Kathy Vohs, a Harwich resident and mother of five, first challenged the petition's presence at the church after it was initially announced, calling it "very anti-gay."

"The health classes have never been a secret," she said. "For years parents have taken their kids out of the classes -- it's no secret. It's not about teaching lifestyles, it's about teaching respect."

Organizers contend that the petition is not anti-gay, but call into question the homosexual lifestyle along the lines of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality.

"The purpose (of the curriculum) is to try to regularize, normalize and naturalize the homosexual lifestyle," McDonald said. "If a person is blind, are we going to bring in blind people to say it's good to be blind, look, you should try it? Homosexuality is an unfortunate condition of some people."

Petition opponents, including Ray Gottwald, the town's representative on the Assembly of Delegates who worked in the state attorney general's office in 1989 when the state's landmark civil rights bill was passed, disagree with separating the person from the "lifestyle."

"If you're focusing in on limiting diversity training that's targeted to a group of people, it's sending a message that that group of people should not be accepted or tolerated," he said.

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