California School Bans Sixth Grader’s Presentation on Harvey Milk

jeff's picture

Faces Possible ACLU Lawsuit For Violation Of State Education Code

RAMONA, CA – Wrongly citing a school policy on sex education, a California school illegally censored a sixth grader's classroom presentation about Harvey Milk earlier this month. According to a demand letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union to the Ramona Unified School District today, the school violated Natalie Jones's free speech rights when it refused to allow her to give the presentation in class. Instead, the school improperly required classmates to get parental permission to see the presentation during a lunch recess.

"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," said Bonnie Jones, mother of the Mt. Woodson Elementary School student. "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 assignment, part of an independent research project class, was originally to prepare a written report on any topic. Natalie 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 Natalie was to give her 12-page presentation she was called into the principal's office and told she couldn't do so.

When Bonnie Jones spoke with the superintendent about the presentation, he said Natalie couldn't give her presentation 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.

"The principal and superintendent grossly misinterpreted school policy. They illegally censored student speech protected by the First Amendment and the California Education Code," said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "Writing or talking about a gay historical figure who advocated for equal rights for LGBT Californians is in no way the same thing as talking about sex, and school officials should not pretend otherwise."

The Ramona Unified School District policy on "Family Life/Sex Education" reads in part:

"(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."

In today's letter, the ACLU is demanding that the school:

-- Apologize in writing to Natalie Jones and send a letter about that apology to all the parents who were sent the principal's letter about the presentation
-- Give Natalie Jones an opportunity to give her presentation to all the other members of her independent research project class
-- 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"

The ACLU is giving the district five days to respond or it may file a lawsuit on Bonnie and Natalie Jones's behalf.

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, the subject of a bill pending in the California legislature that would make it a state holiday, is this Friday.

For additional information, including copies of Natalie Jones's presentation on Harvey Milk, the school's letter to parents, and the Ramona U.S.D. "Family Life/Sex Education" policy, visit http://www.aclu.org/Milk.

newt's picture

Oh god...I thought the

Oh god...I thought the blocking of LGBt websites was bad...now this.

I'm sure if someone did a positive presentation on Donald Wildmon, nobody would raise a finger.

jeff's picture

Hmm...

I'd raise a finger. Only one, though.

---
"People who are happy are slugs... They do not move the human race forward."
-- Camille Paglia, on Oasis

Bi the Book's picture

y only 1? Love is out there,

y only 1?

Love is out there, you just gotta find it, and i have!

Nanook's picture

Because raising only the

Because raising only the middle finger has much more significance than raising the middle finger and the ring finger.

Sykes's picture

I thoughtbthe middle and

I thoughtbthe middle and ring was the superfinger, Dane Cook...
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I will call you squishy and you will be mine. You will be my squishy, come here squishy, come here..."
- DORY!!! W00T!!!

Nanook's picture

Why is there suddenly an

Why is there suddenly an influx of stupid in California? I understand a good amount of the population are bimbos (as illustrated by the Real House Wives of Orange County), but seriously... Are people really that stupid?

Tophat's picture

Hmm. I bet this would happen

Hmm. I bet this would happen to me.

Oh, yeah. It would.

---------------------------------------------------
"We are the Stewards. This is our world.
You shall not interfere, Wronglander."
-Sophismata, Alex in Wonderland

perple's picture

Excuse me Nanook. No chance

Excuse me Nanook. No chance in hell are we all sun-tanned bimbos. I spend my entire life trying to fight Beach Boy-stereotypes of Califronia. I am a whity-mc-whitey-pants, and *surprisingly,* non-whorish.

Strawberry-chan's picture

Agreed.

Exactly.
It's kind of funny. Where I live, when some person comes expecting a tan, they end up leaving drenched and poor.
Stereotypes like that amuse me. :)

typicalmusician's picture

I went through and read the

I went through and read the presentation as well as the school board's policy. The presentation seemed well-done and very much like good work from a sixth grader (from what I can remember of sixth grade). Very appropriate discussions of gay people--Ms. Jones presents Milk's sexual orientation as part of his historical influence without blowing it up, because she, unlike so many adults out there, has understood that it's just another part of who he was!

Also, the school's policy is blatantly anti-gay when it states, "emphasis is to be placed on teaching honor and respect for monogamous and heterosexual marriage."

At least the admins at my school have shaped up to the point where it's not such a big deal. It's the board we always have to watch out for--that's where the conservatives always lie.