Critics of a program on homosexuality at Wilde Lake High School lastfall say they aren't entirely happy with the school board's responseto their concerns, but believe they did get school officials to opensimilar programs in the future to opposing viewpoints.
A similar issue is expected to come before the school board this week. A group of parents plans to petition the board to bar a scheduled talk on living with AIDS to eighth-graders at Glenwood Middle School. A homosexual man infected with the AIDS virus is scheduled to speak.
Some of the approximately 60 community residents who attended a meeting last week decided to ask the board to eliminate the AIDS presentation from the Disability Awareness Day program Jan. 31, reported the Rev. Tim Simpson, pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church and organizer of the meeting.
In the program last October at Wilde Lake, representatives of a support group for young homosexuals talked to 11th-graders about homosexuality. The program brought 200 parents and students to a November board meeting to hear speakers call for a ban on programs by homosexuals or the inclusion of counter-presentations on heterosexuality. Parents of one student told the board they weren't notified in advance of the program, so had no chance to pull their son out.
The board's responses included a pledge to make sure permissionslips are handed to each student, a promise to try to notify parentsof talks by outside speakers two weeks in advance and a reiteration of policies governing controversial issues that require teachers to "see that the facts from all sides of the issue are revealed in appropriate and balanced fashion" and to schedule speakers "on other sides of the same issue."
School officials rejected a request to requireparents to sign their children into AIDS or sexual education programs rather than requiring them to opt out. They also decided against notifying parents of speakers' credentials.
High school students receiving permission slips "are expected to act responsibly," Board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig wrote parents Jim and Ann Sullivan, who circulated a protest letter to the school community that charged parents were not notified in advance.
Kendig's letter also said school officials recommended against trying to list controversial issues covered by the policy. Such a list "by its very nature in our pluralistic society would include some topics offensive to one group and omit topicsnot offensive to other groups," she wrote.
Jim Sullivan said the response "really didn't meet our expectation, but there was some examination." He said he and his wife have not changed their opinions that the program should not have been allowed, but do not plan any further action.
The Rev. Jeff L. Purvis, associate pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Columbia, said that although the board did not bar further presentations by the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League as he had hoped, he was pleased by the policy citation that calls for balanced presentations.
"I'm not sure they'd allow us to go back in on this issue, because it's three months old," Purvis said, adding that he plans to check with school officials about counter-presentations with future programs on homosexuality.
School officials would be violating their own human relations policy if they tried to bar the speaker scheduled to discuss AIDS at Glenwood Middle School simply on the basis of his sexual orientation, said James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for administration and instruction.
"The focus of the program is on AIDS, not on sexual orientation," McGowan said.
Simpson said his opposition is based on the speaker's homosexuality, which "we oppose just as we would oppose adultery and other thingsthat the Bible says are wrong."