If administrators of Kentucky’s Boyd County school district can’t find a way to force all students to attend sexual orientation and gender identity “tolerance training,” the American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to take them to court – again.
Ten months ago, the district settled a lawsuit with the ACLU over the right of a student group, the Gay-Straight Alliance, to meet on campus. The year-long litigation strained relations in the conservative northeast portion of the state. In addition to allowing the group to meet on campus after school, district officials agreed that all students, staff and teachers would be required to receive “tolerance training.”
The agreement stipulated all would attend “mandatory anti-harassment workshops,” including the viewing of an hour-long “training” video covering sexual orientation and gender identity issues for middle and high school students.
But ten months on, one-third of Boyd County students have failed to see the video, and that has the ACLU threatening court action.
“It sounds like the training can’t possibly be done,” James Esseks, litigation director for the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, tells the Louisville Courier-Journal.
District figures show 105 of 730 middle school students opted out of the training video and 145 of 971 high school students did likewise. On the day scheduled for training, 324 students didn’t show up for school.
The current legal snag arises from the fact the original consent decree had no provision for parents exempting their children.
“The schools have great latitude in what they want to teach, including what’s in training programs, and the training is now part of the school curriculum,” Esseks says. “Parents don’t get to say I don’t want you to teach evolution or this, that or whatever else. If parents don’t like it they can homeschool, they can go to a private school, they can go to a religious school.”
“Where are the parental rights in this whole thing?” asks Rev. Tim York, president of the Boyd County Ministerial Alliance and head of Defenders Voice, a community group formed to contest the decree.
According to the group’s website, Defenders Voice “incorporated due to the need for protection of both the physical and mental health of our students and citizens.” Its members place blame for their current distress squarely on the ACLU:
“We have seen an onslaught of aggressive homosexual activism sweep across our country. In many cases, these activists are supported by the ACLU in their attempts. … Defenders Voice believes that an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) should not be allowed to tell parents what their children must learn.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, a religious-liberties public-interest legal group, has signed on to help Defenders Voice, pledging to sue the school district unless it adopts an opt-out policy for parents this week. Alliance was formed in 1993 with the guidance of several well-known Christian conservatives, including the late Dr. Bill Bright, the late Larry Burkett, Dr. James Dobson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, and the late Marlin Maddoux.
Joe Platt, a Cincinnati attorney representing Alliance, says mandatory training on tolerance for homosexuals violates the right of conscience of parents and students who believe such behavior immoral.
But school district attorney, Winter Huff, insists to the Courier-Journal the decree does not violate parental rights: “Students certainly have the right to believe in what they want to believe, but they don’t have the right to act out in inappropriate ways. The point is you don’t treat people disrespectfully, you don’t pick on people, you don’t bully them, you don’t make them afraid to come to school.”
Meanwhile, only one of the seven plaintiffs in the 2003 lawsuit still remain in school. Six have graduated, and the teacher-adviser for the Gay-Straight Alliance club asked to transfer to another campus.
The ACLU’s Esseks is now questioning whether the mandatory video meets the decree’s required hour of anti-harassment training. Like one-third of the students in Boyd County schools, he has yet to view it.
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