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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Groups Clash Over 'Day of Silence' Event in US Schools


The national 'Day of Silence' scheduled for today and Friday, to support gay and lesbian students, is causing some major controversy with groups and parents protesting the event.
According to the Day of Silence website, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/Transsexual (LGBT) event this year is being held in memory of Lawrence King, a California 8th-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression.

Students at schools across the country vow to be silent for day, some wearing shirts with the words "Hello, I am Silent" and others simply refusing to participate in portions of classes that require them to speak.

This has parents and other groups questioning if schools, that are meant to educate the children, are the appropriate place for this type of event.

A prominent anti-gay-rights activist last week called for 1,000 "prayer warriors" to protest in front of the school Friday morning and school staff has been fielding calls and email from concerned parents that are concerned about students taking a silent vow in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth at some schools.

A local church took out a full-page ad in Wednesday's Snoqualmie Valley Record in support of the school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), which is sponsoring the Day of Silence. The ad was meant to counter one by the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, inviting residents to join his protest and declaring: "It's time for moral people to be unashamed and take a stand."

The day of silence is not a school-sanctioned event, although many schools participate.

A group of parents for students that attend the Desert Ridge High School in Arizona, sent out a letter which, in part, states, "These organizations are trying to ensure that anything less than endorsement of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender lifestyles will not be tolerated in our schools or by our students. They want to modify school policies to include language which would remove the rights of those opposed to these lifestyles including the right to state our moral, religious, or even just personal belief that this is wrong. They do not feel anyone with an opinion or belief different from theirs should be able to express that opinion or belief."

You can read the whole letter here.

That group of parents are allowing their children to stay home from school Friday to protest National Day of Silence. One parent is even inviting students to his house for swimming and pizza.

One parent, Randy Bellino, thinks his son, Jake, "should be learning about math and science, not gay and lesbian rights." He is the parent inviting students over to swim and eat pizza.

Another parent, Gail Fox, in Houston's Pershing Middle School, who has a daughter, CeCe White, that is helping organize the event because her best friend is gay, supports her daughters involvement saying, "She has an opinion, and I think that's a great thing."

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has registered five participating schools in Katy, at least two in the Clear Creek school district and more than 20 in the Houston area. The organization estimates that more than 6,000 schools and several hundred thousand kids will keep silent Friday.

In response to the massive amounts of communication from groups and parents about the day of silence, the superintendent of Katy's school district, Alton Frailey, made it clear to the teachers in his district that although his schools were not officially asked to participate, if they were asked, "my answer is no."

He also sent out a districtwide e-mail on the subject, saying, "The degree of exposure and political posturing currently being generated is bringing more attention to this particular subject than is necessary", and in that email he instructed teachers to not make exceptions for students taking vows of silence.

One mother of an elementary school student in Katy, Lori Wilson, said she started receiving forwarded emails back in March, about the silent protest and she is one of the parents that has emailed the school's administrators.

"It's sad because we can't have a day of silence for prayer, but we can have a day of silence for that," she said.

This is but a small sample of what is going on around the country in schools.

One thing is clear, no matter what side of the issue people are on, all can agree that there won't be much scholastic education going on in the schools from one end of the country to the other, on Thursday and Friday.

According to Wikipedia, these days of silence have been going on annually since 1996.