Quote of the day

"We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing. "

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Parent and student engage the wheels of justice to defend the GSA and the DoS

Submitted by one of our parents...

March 6, 2008


Snoqualmie Valley School District
Mr. G. Joel Aune, Superintendent
Mr. Randy Taylor, Principal
Mr. Rudy Edwards, Snoqualmie Valley School District Boardmember
Ms. Caroline Loudenback, Snoqualmie Valley School District Boardmember
Ms. Kathryn Lerner, Snoqualmie Valley School District Boardmember
Ms. Marci Busby, Snoqualmie Valley School District Boardmember
Ms. Kristy Sullivan, Snoqualmie Valley School District Boardmember
8001 Silva Ave S.E., P.O. Box 400
Snoqualmie, WA 98065

Dear Superintendent Aune, Principal Taylor, and Members of the School District Board of Directors,

I write at the request of Daniel Ferland, a Mount Si High School parent, and his daughter, Jacqueline Ferland, a Mount Si High senior who is President of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, to express their significant concerns about recent efforts by outside groups to pressure members of the Mount Si Gay Straight Alliance (“GSA”) to refrain from exercising their rights to freedom of expression at the school. This letter aims to provide the School Board with information about its obligations to ensure safe and equal educational opportunities for all students and to invite any questions you may have on this matter.

Initially, I’d like to provide a brief introduction of my organization. Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest legal organization in the country dedicated to advancing the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender individuals (“LGBT people”) as well as those with HIV. Lambda Legal’s work on behalf of students in schools has included securing the first-ever federal court rulings that schools must protect gay students from violence and harassment; a first-of-its-kind federal court ruling and settlement recognizing the constitutional right of lesbian and gay youth to be “out” about their sexual orientation at school; and recognition that gay-straight alliances must be allowed to meet under the same rules as other student groups.1

Schools occupy an important public trust in our society, which both constitutional law and Washington law define to include the safeguarding of students’ full and equal participation in school regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.2 A school’s obligation to teach respect for the basic dignity of all students is a particularly critical element of this trust because of each school’s important role in training our nation’s future leaders, a role that the courts have long recognized depends on exposure to a robust exchange of ideas. We understand that Mount Si has come under increasing pressure to circumscribe this exchange of ideas ― particularly those relating to LGBT students ― through calls for a taskforce about the teaching of “controversial” subjects, and most recently a distressing “open letter” from an outside group warning GSA members that they should cancel their plans to participate in the nationally recognized Day of Silence or else face “more persecution of gay students” (emphasis in original) based on what they claimed would be a building “resentment” that would “spill[] out in ugly ways,” where “problems experienced will occur again.” Of great alarm, this letter referenced “unstable people [who] sometimes turn their frustration to extreme acts of violence,” including “[s]chool shootings.”

While schools across the nation implement policies on the teaching of controversial subjects in their role as responsible educators, schools may not adopt policies in which the indicia of controversy are discriminatory based on sexual orientation, gender identity or other personal traits placed off limits by anti-discrimination laws. Though some community members have expressed a view that discussion of LGBT people necessarily is controversial by definition, public entities such as schools may not give effect to such private biases by lending those views the imprimatur of school policies. See Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984) (“Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.”) LGBT students and their supporters exist, and have a right to exist, at Mount Si. They are to be governed by, and protected by, the same rules as apply to all other students, including the rules defining what is “controversial.”

Mr. Ferland, his daughter Jacqueline, and other students in the GSA are particularly troubled by the “open letter” dated February 27, 2008 addressed directly to the GSA members by a group calling itself the Coalition to Defend Education (“CoDE”). The notion that an outside group of adults may make direct appeals to students to refrain from participating in school activities is deeply distressing for these students, many of whom feel targeted and intimidated by this effort. Moreover, the letter makes plain that CoDE misunderstands the nature and purpose of the Day of Silence, and shows why that and similar activities are essential for LGBT students and their supporters at Mount Si. These students selected the Day of Silence activity precisely because it is educational, calm and non-confrontational. It is a low-key way for them to help their fellow students understand that they exist within the school community, though many of them are invisible much of the time. By its very nature, this silent activity avoids confrontation. And, as the CoDE letter acknowledges, only a small percentage of the student body participates. Yet, even with limited participation, this educational exercise encourages the non-participants to recognize errors in their assumptions about others’ identities and/or attitudes about LGBT people.

Because members of the GSA now feel targeted and pressured not to engage in the educational activities of their school club, we call on each of you to make clear the school administration’s commitment to allowing students to participate in their club and other free speech activities, free from outside adult warnings of dire consequences or coercion.

The parent and student on whose behalf we write are deeply concerned that CoDE’s outside pressure, applied with the admitted goal of censoring and rendering invisible LGBT students and their supporters, is quickly and seriously eroding the environment for all students at the school. From our work in this area, we know how important it is for school officials to take prompt, proactive steps to ensure that all students are able to attend and participate in school free from intimidation, harassment and fear for their safety. Leadership from the School District Board of Directors and Mount Si High School administration on these issues is urgently needed. At the behest of Daniel Ferland and Jacqueline Ferland, we urge the administration to communicate clearly its support for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, its expectation that all students will be treated with respect in the school environment, and its firm refusal to allow students to be pressured or dissuaded by outside parties from engaging in visible, educational activities within their school environment.


Tara L. Borelli
Staff Attorney
Lambda Legal
3325 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1300
Los Angeles, CA 90010

1. See, e.g., Nabozny v. Podlesny, 92 F.3d 446 (7th Cir. 1996) (first judicial opinion in the nation’s history finding that public schools and their individual agents can be held accountable for not stopping antigay abuse; culminated in nearly $1 million settlement for student); Henkle v. Gregory, 150 F.Supp.2d 1067 (2001) (ruling resulting in settlement recognizing the constitutional right of gay and lesbian youth to be open and honest about their sexual orientation in schools and $451,000 payment to student); Colín v. Orange Unified School District, 83 F.Supp.2d 1135 (2000) (granting preliminary injunction against school district that prohibited gay-straight alliance from meeting and participating in same school privileges as other school clubs).

2. Indeed, Washington’s Legislature has recognized that eliminating discrimination based on these classifications is a matter of state concern, and forms the foundation of a free democratic state. (R.C.W. 49.60.010.)


Anonymous said...

The School Board would be well advised to choose their next steps carefully...

I can see the SVSD being made an example of in the courts.

Anonymous said...

I'll be happy to field hate mail at dan.ferland@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

You have to love this guy describing the parents and taxpayers in the community as "outside pressure groups".
Apparently they didn't teach the meaning of "irony" at his law school.

Anonymous said...

Bullying and torment of any kids and any group is wrong.
This is exactly the message CoDE is setting. It seems to serve the purpose better to turn this into a "gay/straight" argument versus a "waste of school time" argument.

Anonymous said...

Would it be correct to wonder if these guys are going to also go after the 21,000 other high schools in the US who do not pay proper tribute to GLSEN on their Day of Silence?

Anonymous said...

I think it is going to end up in court either way. The losers are the tax payers.

Anonymous said...

No one is trying to get rid of the GSA. And as for being silenced, let's be honest that the LGBTQ side has got to be the noisiest "oppressed" minority ever.
You got Will & Grace already. Give the rest of us a freakin' break!

Anonymous said...

The real losers are the kids. This is all really sad.

Anonymous said...

I thank God I live in a Secular nation!

God Bless America and God Bless the Constitution!

Anonymous said...

No one is trying to get rid of the GSA. And as for being silenced, let's be honest that the LGBTQ side has got to be the noisiest "oppressed" minority ever.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anonymous said...

OMG! It's so nice when this group of people get to the point they have to get lawyers involved to force their agenda on us. It's not going to work as we have lawyers too if that's what you really want.

Anonymous said...

Would it be correct to wonder if these guys are going to also go after the 21,000 other high schools in the US who do not pay proper tribute to GLSEN on their Day of Silence?

This is a student sponsored event at Mount Si that is protected by law. As much as you wish you could, you cannot interfere!

Dan said...

OMG! It's so nice when this group of people get to the point they have to get lawyers involved to force their agenda on us.

Seem's like CoDE is the one trying to push an agenda.

The students are free to exercise their freedom of expression and that angers you...so sad!

Anonymous said...

Waste of time.
Students can think whatever they want.
The law rightfully protects the GSA's right to form a club as long as there are other clubs.

But it would be interesting if every club decided to sponsor a day.
Or if we had a day for every protected class (women, race, creed, age, veteran status, disability, religion, etc.).

Let's not confuse sympathy with the intent with the rejection of wasting school time for this. It's certainly not the only waste of school time.

There are rules and policies to protect kids at school from harassment. One class of kids doesn't deserve more protection than another.
And if those rules and policies aren't being followed equally, then there is another problem at the school that both sides should be working to fix.

Anonymous said...

From the 'Read Comments from Members' section of the CoDE website:
42 A community member says: From all I have heard about what goes on at MSHS, I know one thing for sure. Washington State has harassment laws against this sort of thing. This would not be tolerated in my work place. A student is not to be made to feel threatened in any way for having a different point of view, especially from those in authority over them. I can't believe these staff members still have their jobs after the MLK assembly. They would've been fired in my work place. What's it going to take? A class-action lawsuit against the school district & the state?

So who exactly is looking to lawyers to enforce there aganda on others? This well written letter is simply to state the law as it relates to student groups. I think the point of parents threatening student is a serious one.

Anonymous said...

Great letter from Lambda.

I am unfortunately, not able to attend the board meeting tonight but wish the GSA and their supporters well.

Has the Coalition to Defend Education done anything to encourage people to vote for the school bonds next week? I am just curious. To me that seems like an important thing people could do to defend education in the valley. If they are not out rallying votes for the school bond it makes me suspect that their real goal is to discourage the free speech rights of students and not to really defend students. Overcrowded schools are certainly less safe.

I hope some CoDE people get out there and work on the bond stuff. I have heard a few use the GSA issue as an excuse to vote no.

Molly Jester
Valley Parent

Anonymous said...

To Dan

When my girls are picked on because they choose to speak on the 'day of silence' that is actually only giving one side the freedom to express their opinion. How come when my girls want to wear a Christian shirt they cannot? That seems like the freedom to express their opinion is not worth as much?

Dan said...

When my girls are picked on because they choose to speak on the 'day of silence' that is actually only giving one side the freedom to express their opinion. How come when my girls want to wear a Christian shirt they cannot? That seems like the freedom to express their opinion is not worth as much?

Picked on? If they are being bullied or harassed they should report it.

I was not aware that "christian" shirts were banned at Mount Si.

Mark Joselyn said...

Religious freedom, including the absence thereof, lies at the core of our nation's founding. The First Amendment to the constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Thus the history of case law and struggle over the separation of church and state. Religion is a belief. Discrimination based on one's sexual orientation is increasingly recognized as unlawful. Therein lies the answer to your question.

As of this week the Washington State legislature passed legislation (the Washington State Senate passed House Bill 3104) that grants legal rights to domestic partners.

"The bill grants same-sex couples rights -- including the ability to share bank accounts, the right to hold common property and immunity from testifying against one's partner in court. Divorce rights -- including child-custody provisions -- were also granted.

The measure now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it into law"

I for one would support your daughter wearing such a shirt (I wonder what the basis is for your statement that she can not).

Students being 'picked on', for any reason, goes to the core of what is most important. They should not be. Students need a place to find themselves, to clarify what they believe and be able to ground it because it will serve them well as they move to adulthood.

Mark Joselyn

Anonymous said...

I am not aware of children not being able to wear Christian shirts. I think this is a fallacy and there is likely more to the story. I am aware of some students who reportedly wore shirts that said they liked gay people dead. That is not appropriate.

When I was in high school kids met on their own for Bible study at lunch time etc. We were able to express our faith. I am sure some people made fun of us but it did not really matter to us. We were confident in our faith. We were always warm to others.

If you do not support the Day of Silence for whatever reason and your children do not either then use the day to practice expressing why in a respectful way or use it to study your faith at lunch etc. Just because your children may not want to participate does not mean the day should not happen.

Our children will be faced with so many people when they graduate who have different belief systems than they were raised with. A Day of Silence is nothing compared to what they will face. I suggest parents use this day as a learning opportunity.

I know many Christians though who support this day. You can be faithful and realize that the hateful way gays are treated in this country is shameful. We can disect the Bible and interpret it anyway that meets our needs but bottom line is Jesus tells us to love one another and we need to use this as a chance to love one another. We do not always need to agree but we need to be loving.

Pastor Hutcherson's comment about tearing off the arm of an effeminate man and beating him with it etc is not loving or funny and certainly not what God wants us to do.

Legally the Day of Silence has a right to go on and it will.

Parents who object need to work with their children to understand that it will take place and we all need to act in a respectful manner regarding this.

I was talking to some friends in other districts and they were shocked it was even an issue. Their children's schools have had a Day of Silence for years. They were surprised at the objection. They thought we were really backwoods for objecting it. It is so common now to them it is not on the radar.