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The Pacific Justice Institute recently filed a lawsuit, on behalf of parents, against the Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., for authorizing pro-homosexual assemblies without any prior notice or parental consent.
The suit alleges the parents’ fundamental constitutional and civil rights to direct the upbringing of their children and the free exercise of religion were violated.
“This is the beginning of a litigation campaign to defend the rights of parents,” declares Brad Dacus, president of the nonprofit legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights and other civil liberties.
The presentations, entitled “Cootie Shots,” exposed elementary school children as young as seven to skits containing gay and lesbian overtures. “Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry” is a collection of plays, songs and poems written by members of Fringe Benefits Theatre, a coalition of theater activists who, according to their website, are “dedicated to building bridges between gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) youth and their straight peers, teachers and parents.” The United Teachers of Los Angeles and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network of Los Angeles created a classroom activity guide to accompany “Cootie Shots” which GLSEN sells on its website.
“Cootie Shots,” according to its authors, seeks to “address acceptance and tolerance of gays and lesbians in an age-appropriate manner” and “celebrate diversity by presenting role models from many different races, classes, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, religions, ages, shapes and sizes.”
In an interview with TCG books, co-author Mark Rosenthal describes, “My biggest success came after a show I had just performed, when a small group of kids approached me. The spokeschild asked if I was gay, and when I said yes they shrieked and ran away, giggling. A few minutes later, they reappeared, and the spokeschild apologized. She said she was sorry if she had hurt my feelings. We had a conversation, where the children asked several times if I was really gay, several saying that they had never met a gay person. I told them it’s quite possible they had, but he or she might have been afraid of their initial reaction. They reflected upon this, and seemed to be considering this possibility for the first time.”
Co-author Norma Bowles told TCG Books, “Children in a group are different than children alone. They look to the group to help them decide how they should feel and act, so what we try to do is to make it cool to do the right thing.”
But in excerpts from his journal published in Fringe Benefits online newsletter, Rosenthal questions whether they were doing the right thing with “Cootie Shots”: “I’m afraid,” he writes, “this children’s theater for ‘us’ is bringing all of my shame and rancid homophobia up to the surface like so many dead bodies. But it feels like we’re recruiting. Ridiculous, yes? Just seeing those words written makes my stomach churn. I KNOW we’re not.”
News of the lawsuit comes on the heels of California Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy’s failed attempt to prohibit the promotion of homosexuality in public schools, which he sees as infringing on the rights of parents. Mountjoy especially takes issue with the “lewd and lascivious” materials used in schools to promote homosexuality. As WorldNetDaily reported last month, instructions on homosexual sodomy and a glorified account of lesbian pedophilia are among the instructional materials approved by the Los Angeles Unified School District for use in a “diversity” curriculum being presented to elementary through high school students. The materials were referenced by Mountjoy before the state Assembly education committee.
“California reading scores for the eighth grade are 32nd out of 36 states nationally. Math scores are tied with Alabama for 35th out of 40 states. Science scores are abysmal. Public schools need to teach reading, writing, math, and science, not spend valuable time and resources promoting homosexuality,” concluded Mountjoy.
But in 2000, state legislators mandated that public schools address homosexuality. The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act required the State Board of Education to revise state curriculum to “include human relations education, with the aim of fostering an appreciation of the diversity of California’s population and discouraging the development of discriminatory attitudes and practices. … Acknowledge lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender historical figures, events, concepts, and issues in the revisions of content standards and curriculum frameworks, when appropriate. Identify and expand the available lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender resources for school library materials.”
Despite the state requirements, California education code provides a process for parents to have some say over what their children are taught in public schools. It requires schools give prior notice to parents of what’s being taught, allows parents time to review the material to be presented, allows for parents to authorize children to “opt-out” of course instruction pertaining to family life and sexually transmitted diseases education on the basis of religious belief, and prohibits any questions being directed to children about their personal beliefs without the prior consent of parents.
According to Fringe Benefits online newsletter, the theater company began bringing its show to “public, private and Catholic [schools] from South Orange County to the Bay Area” in the fall of 1999.
Excerpts from Rosenthal’s journal further reveal the tour met with resistance from parents: “We’ve got it! The booking I’ve (we’ve) been praying for. Three assemblies. For a sh–load of kids! 100 or more per show, depending upon how many parents do the wrong thing and refuse permission. … I AM BURNING! Norma just told me that those stupid m—– are at it again. Flashpoint. A—– parents are posting signs around the school we’re visiting Monday, urging people to keep their kids home to protest the show.”
The “Cootie Shots” show came to Pleasant Valley Elementary School and San Ramon Elementary School in Novato in 2001. According to the lawsuit, the parents were not notified of the “Cootie Shots” assemblies, which “exposed each of the children to terms that were not appropriate” and posed questions to them “regarding their personal beliefs and/or practices in sex, family life, morality and religion.” The suit alleges that even after the assemblies, the schools did not disclose that the performance contained information about homosexuality and other issues that were against the personal moral convictions of the parents.
Concerned parents went to the schools after the assemblies to inquire about the use of the “opt-out” forms they had submitted at the beginning of the school year. According to the lawsuit, staff members reported that the forms were “missing.”
Jan La Torre-Derby, assistant superintendent of the school district, tells WorldNetDaily she cannot comment about the lawsuit or the “Cootie Shots” program. She also would not address the appropriateness of the material presented, other than to say, “‘Cootie Shots’ was a single assembly done in two elementary schools in February 2001. It was a wonderful program funded by Marin Community Foundation … about name calling and bullying designed to teach respect.”
“Diversity in general has become more of an interest in our district,” explained Dianne Pavia, director of public information for the Novato Unified School District. Pavia tells WorldNetDaily the Novato community suffered two hate-motivated incidents in 1998, one in which a racial comment was made against a student during a sports event. The other incident occurred off-campus and involved battery against someone perceived to be homosexual. A multicultural oversight commission was subsequently formed “with a goal of promoting a safe learning environment for students.”
When asked about the need to promote school safety in the context of a pro-homosexual presentation like “Cootie Shots,” Pavia replied, “Parents and teachers alike are concerned about bullying and name-calling and the reality is some of the names are in relation to homosexuality.”
As for the status of “Cootie Shots” in the district, Pavia maintains, “I know of no schools who have plans to bring it into the schools this year.”
Citing the pending lawsuit, neither La Torre-Derby nor Pavia could address the “missing” opt-out forms submitted by parents. However, both explained the school board is currently reviewing new curriculum policy “to ensure there is a thoughtful, inclusive and responsive process in place for curriculum development that includes the opt-out form.”
“We’ll do everything in our power to see that parents’ desires are adhered to,” La Torre-Derby said, while stressing the new policy under review has nothing to do with the lawsuit.
Dacus, with Pacific Justice Institute, says the lawsuit is bigger than Novato Unified School District.
“Our goal is to challenge every single school district that decides to implement [The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act] in a manner that undermines parents’ rights. Districts will find it’s going to be extremely costly for them to continue in this manner.”