Sunday, December 6, 2009

Judge upholds anti-bullying curriculum of California school district designed to protect LGBT students, and students of non-traditional families

Order Denying Petitioners' Petition for Writ of Mandamus, filed 12-01-09, in Balde v. AlamedaUnified School District , No. RG09-468037 (Cal. Alameda County Super. Ct.)

Petitioners in this lawsuit include parents of Alameda, California, who sought to exempt their children from a curriculum of the local school district. On May 26th, the Alameda School Unified School District (AUSD) Board adopted the Safe School Community Curriculum - Lesson 9. They took this action in response to episodes of bullying against students who are members of gay and lesbian families. Lesson 9 introduces kindergarten through fifth-grade students to differences among familes, so that by the fifth grade students not only understand family diversity and LGBT family structures, but are ready to learn about prejudicial stereotypes. Lesson 9 was thus designed to prevent bullying and harassment against LGBT students, and students of non-traditional families, including families with gay and lesbian parents.

Objecting on religious grounds to Lesson 9, plaintiff parents asked AUSD officials to exempt their children from the program. The parents claimed that Lesson 9 represents "health instruction," and that Cal. Educ. Code Sec. 51240 allows them to exercise an "opt-out" of their children from any "health instruction" lesson that violates their religious beliefs. When AUSD officials informed them that the Lesson 9 curriculum has no opt-out provision, counsel for the parents - the Pacific Justice Institute - filed a petition with the Alameda County Superior Court to compel AUSD to honor their exemption demand. Pacific Justice Institute filed the petition on August 12th.

Yes on 8 and Yes on 1 proponents in California and Maine, respectively, told voters that marriage-equality would advance public-school "indoctrination" in same-sex marriage. In this context, I thought that marriage-equality opponents might exploit Balde in the next campaign to repeal Prop. 8. If banning marriage equality in California does not stop some school districts from adopting programs like Lesson 9, they could "warn" voters, imagine what incentive school districts would have if voters repealed the ban!

It took Judge Frank Roesch relatively little time to rule against the parents and order them to pay AUSD's legal costs. He found no intent by the State legislature to define a "school's instruction in health" by standards petitioners identified as relevant - the Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools, as adopted by the California Department of Education. And even if these standards were relevant, Judge Roesch found nothing more than incidental overlap at each grade level between Lesson 9 and the Health Education Content Standards:
[C]ontrary to the Petitioners' assertion, the Lesson 9 curriculum does not closely track the Health Ed Content Standards on a grade-by-grade basis. The Lesson 9 curriculum has a distinct and focused purpose tied to preventing discrimination against young students based on the LBGT structures of their families, and any overlap with Health Ed Content Standards is not significant and does not support Petitioners' claimed right to opt out of instruction for their children in the Lesson 9 curriculum.

Finally, the Court agrees with the District that Petitioners' position would expand the scope of the opt out right under Education Code section 51240 to include any anti-discrimination or anti-harassment instruction that deals with families or tolerance of persons with differences. The result would be that parents who object to instruction in tolerance of individuals or families of other races or of mixed races, of persons with disabilities, or of persons or families of other races, ethnicity, or religion, would have the right to have their children excused from instruction on those topics. This result could not have been contemplated by the Legislature, since it substantially hinders the ability of schools to supplement California's policy under Education Code section 233 to provide equal rights and opportunities in public schools to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, or religion. [9-10]

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