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Student banned from making presentation on gay rights leader Harvey Milk

Jessica Geen May 21, 2009
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A California school which illegally censored a sixth-grade student’s presentation of gay rights activist Harvey Milk may face a lawsuit.

Natalie Jones, who attends Mt Woodson Elementary School, was barred from showing her presentation out in class.

Instead, she was told she would have to show it during lunch break and only students with parental permission were allowed to attend.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which is handling the case on the student’s behalf, the school violated her rights to free speech.

The school told Natalie’s mother Bonnie Jones that she couldn’t give her presentation because of a district board policy on “Family Life/Sex Education”.

Part of the policy reads: “(P)arents/guardians shall be notified in writing about any instruction in which human reproductive organs and their functions, processes, or sexually transmitted diseases are described, illustrated, or discussed. In addition, before any instruction on family life, human sexuality, AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases is given, the parent/guardian shall be provided with written notice explaining that the instruction will be given…”

“Schools that act as if any mention of the existence of gay people is something too controversial or ‘sensitive’ to discuss are doing a disservice to their students,” said Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national LGBT Project.

“This school completely overstepped its bounds in trying to silence Natalie Jones by shunting her presentation off to a lunch recess time and misusing a school policy to justify requiring parental permission to see it.”

Natalie’s mother said: “This whole thing is unbelievable – first my daughter got called into the principal’s office as if she were in some kind of trouble, and then they treated her presentation like it was something icky.

“Harvey Milk was an elected official in this state and an important person in history. To say my daughter’s presentation is ‘sex education’ because Harvey Milk happened to be gay is completely wrong.”

The ACLU has sent a letter to the school demanding that Natalie should be sent a written apology, which in turn, parents should be told about.

It added that the student should be allowed an opportunity to give her presentation to all the other members of her independent research project class and that the school should clarify in writing that the parental notification and permission portion of the “Family Life/Sex Education” policy only applies to the curricula identified as “course content” for “Family Life/Sex Education instruction”.

It has said it will give the school district five days to respond, after which it may begin legal action on behalf of Natalie.

Related topics: Americas

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