By Brian Park
A Capistrano Unified School District parent has asked the board of trustees to reject a state law that requires public schools to include gay and lesbian history and lessons into the classroom.
Dr. Stan Wasbin, a parent of four students in CUSD campuses, addressed the board at its January 7 meeting regarding their stance on the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, a 2011 state law that obligates local school districts to include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people into social studies curriculums.
Proponents of the law, also known as Senate Bill 48, say incorporating homosexual figures in lesson plans would teach students tolerance and help curb bullying against LGBT students. Meanwhile, critics say not all parents would be open to having their children learn such lessons and that the law could motivate those parents to move their children out of the public school system.
“My anger is directed at our state legislators who created and passed this law and not at all to anyone who classifies themselves as LGBT, whose humanity I honor as much as my own,” Wasbin said. “I care about (CUSD schools) as institutions of academic excellence, not as reeducation camps.”
Julie Hatchel, the district’s assistant superintendent of education services, said the district has always included LGBT individuals into its own non-discrimination laws. SB48 also requires school districts to adopt state-approved textbooks and teaching material that incorporate LGBT history as soon as the 2013-2014 school year. CUSD will not reconsider new textbooks until their next adoption cycle in 2016.
Hatchel said rejecting or ignoring textbooks in line with the law could potentially jeopardize the district’s funding stream for textbooks.
The board pointed out that the law is vague in terms of how it is to be enforced. Superintendent Joseph Farley and Trustee Jim Reardon said SB48 gives local school districts the responsibility to decide how to implement LGBT lessons and at what grade level.
Wasbin addressed the board regarding the law at a previous meeting but requested the item be placed on the January 7 agenda so as to draw the board’s position and public discussion.
“If someone has made an important contribution and that person happens to be classified as LGBT, then by all means, let’s teach our kids about that person. But not because of that person’s sexual group identity,” Wasbin said.
Several members of the advocacy group, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, spoke out in support of the bill at the board meeting. Many, including parents of former and current LGBT students at CUSD schools, said rampant bullying, or “gender policing,” is a serious problem and that the bill serves to increase tolerance for the homosexual community.
“People fear what they don’t know,” said Bill Pisetsky, a PFLAG member whose son is gay. “Right now, the education system to a large degree is silent on the issue. Education is the greatest tool we have to alleviate fear.”
Natalie de Leon, another member of PFLAG and a current senior at Soka University, told the board that as a lesbian student in high school, she experienced several episodes of gender policing and that incorporating LGBT lessons would have helped.
“No child should have fear of attending their school every day,” de Leon said. “As a society, we’re moving forward to diversity. We no longer have to hide LGBT people and their allies.”
Wasbin said he is concerned with other subject areas, including math and science, being neglected by incorporating a new subject. “If you’re going to add this, what’s going to be deleted,” Wasbin said.
Wasbin also said the bill opens the door for future legislation aimed to include more groups.
“Today, the state political winds blow from the left, but tomorrow, they may blow from the right. Our children may be forced to learn about the contributions of other groups, such as gun owners, death-penalty proponents and anti-abortion advocates,” Wasbin said. “Do we really want to politicize public education like that?”