A “LEARNING EXPERIENCE” FOR RAMONA SCHOOL DISTRICT: SCHOOL APOLOGIZES FOR BANNING 6TH GRADER’S HARVEY MILK REPORT

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Move Comes After ACLU Letter Alleged District Violated Student’s Constitutional Rights

June 13, 2009 (Ramona) – A Ramona school district has apologized to sixth grader Natalie Jones for censoring her classroom presentation about Harvey Milk last month, and school officials promised they won't engage in allegedly unconstitutional restriction of similar free speech in the future.

Move Comes After ACLU Letter Alleged District Violated Student’s Constitutional Rights

June 13, 2009 (Ramona) – A Ramona school district has apologized to sixth grader Natalie Jones for censoring her classroom presentation about Harvey Milk last month, and school officials promised they won't engage in allegedly unconstitutional restriction of similar free speech in the future.

The apology comes after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter on May 30 to the Ramona Unified School District about its violation of the student’s free speech rights when it refused to allow her to give a presentation in class about slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk. Wrongly citing a school policy on sex education, the school had improperly required classmates to get parental permission to see the presentation during a lunch recess. The student gave her presentation in class late last week.

“Harvey Milk always stood up for his beliefs and what was right, so I felt like I should do the same thing when my school told me they wouldn’t let me do my presentation,” said Natalie Jones, a sixth grader at Mt. Woodson Elementary School. “I worked really hard on my presentation and I’m glad I’m finally going to get to share it with all of my classmates like everyone else got to.”

The assignment, part of an independent research project class, was to prepare a written report on any topic. Jones, who was inspired to write about Harvey Milk after watching Sean Penn win an Academy Award for portraying him, got a score of 49 out of a possible 50 points on the written report. Students were then told to make PowerPoint presentations about their reports, which they would show to other students in the class. The day before Jones was to give her 12-page presentation she was called into the principal’s office and told she couldn’t do so. When her mother spoke with the superintendent about the presentation, she was told the presentation couldn’t be given because of a district board policy on “Family Life/Sex Education.”

A few days later, the school sent letters to parents of students in the class, explaining that her presentation would be held during a lunch recess on May 8, and that students could only attend if they had parental permission due to the allegedly “sensitive” nature of the topic.<>

“Instead of quaking at the mere mention of an LGBT person’s existence, schools must understand that talking about someone who happens to be gay is no more sexual in nature than talking about a person who happens to be heterosexual,” said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“Censoring Natalie’s presentation violated the First Amendment and the California Education Code, and we’re pleased she will finally get to give her presentation on a historical figure who was such a fierce advocate for the rights of not just LGBT Californians but of all people.”

The school district has agreed to all the demands the ACLU made on Natalie Jones’s behalf:

- The school has apologized in writing to Jones and sent a letter about that apology to all the parents who were sent the school’s letter about the presentation.

- The school allowed Jones to give her presentation to all the other members of her independent research project class.

- The school has agreed to bring its “Family Life/Sex Education” policy into compliance with state law, and acknowledged that the mention or acknowledgement of a person’s sexual orientation is not sufficient to invoke the statutes and policies on sex education.

In its letter of apology to Jones, superintendent Robert Graeff and principal Theresa Grace stated that they initially barred the presentation because of concern that the content was viewed as “extremely sensitive and challenging for students, parents, and teachers,” but conceded that the approach was overly cautious. “We recognize that the mention or acknowledgement of a person’s sexual orientation is not sufficient to require parental permission to participate in a class or view a student’s presentation,” the letter added. “Please accept this apology and have the confidence that our school and District leadership truly value you as a student and our local ideology which values diversity of opinion. It is our hope that—together—we can all view this incident as a learning experience and emerge wiser from the entire experience.”

Bonnie Jones, Natalie’s mother, expressed satisfaction at the outcome. “I’m always proud of my daughter, of course, but I’m even more proud of her for the way she stood up for her rights,” she said. “We’ve also heard from many people in town and other parents at Natalie’s school who have been amazingly supportive. I think if Harvey Milk were still here today, he’d be happy about how this all worked out.”

Harvey Milk, one of Time Magazine’s Time 100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century in 1999, has been the subject of several books, an opera, a documentary film that won the 1984 Academy Award for Documentary Feature, and a feature film released last year that won two Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. Milk’s birthday is the subject of a bill pending in the California legislature that would make it a state holiday.

For additional information, including Natalie Jones’ presentation on Harvey Milk, and the Ramona U.S.D. “Family Life/Sex Education” policy, visit the national ACLU's website.


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Comments

If you are thinking of homeschooling

For those parents who are considering home-schooling as a result of this, there is an excellent website that gives you all the info you need at http://www.youcanhomeschool.org. We live in Ramona and have home-schooled our kids for nearly 3 years now. We are so happy that our kids are safe from this forced indoctrination and we can explain this to them in the right context. Our decision to home school has been the best decision we ever made, and have no regrets. Our kids have improved dramatically, and they have developed a passion for learning that is amazing.

Harvey Milk letters

I admired that a young student has the compassion & understanding to address such an issue.
On June/2/09 in the S.F.Cronical, "Leah Garchick's" column tells of two letters written from "Harvey Milk" more than 50 years ago to a close friend. The letters reveal that the fight for equal rights for the Gay & Lesbian community is not spontaneous, this dicrimination has been prevalent for many years. In the letters he tells his friend in 1954 about how he was to marry a man and be happy with him in Texas. Also of the thret of being turned in and thrown out of the Navy for being GAY!
Harvey Milk was assassinated for being Gay as was "Martin Luther King" for being black. "Cher's" daughter is also a good example. She's going through the change to become a man. It must be horrible to have these feelings inside you and feel unable to do anything because society shuns upon it.
These letters should be seen by everyone so they know just how long we have suffered for our equal rights.

Thank You for your understanding