LCPS on a slippery slope

This is an updated overview of the status of Tango, just in terms of the policy issues that have been uncovered. There will be more forthcoming about the community response, remarks at the February 26 School Board meeting, and the merits of Superintendent Hatrick’s rationale.

First, here’s the audio clip of Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn from last week:

Stacey Campfield and David Weintraub

#1108, First Broadcast February 21, 2008

Tennessee Bill would bar teachers from discussing homosexuality, with the sponsor Representative Stacey Campfield. Also, does the book And Tango Makes Three, the story of two male penguins hatching an egg, promote a gay agenda? David Weintraub with Equality Loudoun joins us.

Listen Now

The segment with Rep. Campfield is pretty funny. His argument is basically this: He doesn’t remember the topic of sexual orientation ever coming up in conversation when he was in school, so he “can’t imagine” that it would ever happen among students (K-8th grade) now. He also can’t see how his bill would constitute exclusion or disrespect for anyone’s family. Not the brightest bulb, I’m afraid.

Back to Loudoun:

Loudoun Times-Mirror
Leesburg Today
Loudoun Extra

At the Tuesday, February 26 School Board meeting, Superintendent Hatrick read into the record and distributed a statement in which he explained the rationale for his decision. He also conceded that he had overstepped his authority by extending the Sugarland book removal to all LCPS elementary schools, and a memo has since been sent to the other affected schools directing that the book be returned to general circulation. At Sugarland Elementary the book remains in the professional collection, where it is not accessible to students.

In his statement (available here), Dr. Hatrick makes reference to “some rather poor reporting of the facts in some publications and on some websites.” Since the story has been reported and commented on in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of blogs and articles across the country and beyond, has been placed in the context of a recent murder classified as an anti-gay hate crime, has been a topic of discussion on “The View,” and is currently being used as fodder for agitation and fundraising appeals by national anti-gay activist organizations, it’s very difficult to assess this statement. I can assure him that our pursuit of the facts has been, and will continue to be, rigorous.

Unless and until Dr. Hatrick identifies a specific source and assertion that he feels is in error, the statement remains a blank slate upon which anyone can project their particular spin. That’s unfortunate, because what is needed most in this conflict is the willingness to address in an open, honest manner what went wrong in this case, so that what is broken can be fixed.

And from what we can confirm so far, a lot went wrong in the way this challenge was handled. We already reported here that the documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the complainant, Sherrie Sawyer, failed to file her appeal of the Sugarland review committee decision within the five-day time limit required by the policy, but that her challenge was permitted to continue.

This violation has yet to be addressed by the School Board or the Superintendent. If the policy were to be respected, the entire process subsequent to that unanimous decision would be considered null and void, and the decision to retain the book would be recorded as final.

However, it now appears likely that the complainant did not even have standing to file the challenge.

She is an assistant teacher at Sugarland, but her Leesburg address would require her children to be enrolled at Tolbert. There are sometimes provisions made so that children may be enrolled at the school where a parent works, but several sources in the Sugarland community tell us that this is not the case with Ms. Sawyer. There is a Sawyer child enrolled at Tolbert. We are awaiting definitive confirmation of this information – alternative explanations are possible – but we also note that the Tolbert library collection does not include And Tango Makes Three.

If the policy were silent in these areas, it could be argued that the Superintendent had discretion (although his decision would still have been wrong on the merits). However, the policy is very clear: “All appeals under this policy must be made within 5 school days of receipt of the decision being appealed. If a decision is not appealed within this time limit, the decision on the request for review shall be final;” “Requests for review shall be made to the principal of the school the child attends.“

This is legally binding language. If Dr. Hatrick’s decision is allowed to stand, then it’s reasonable for people to think that LCPS cannot be trusted to make consistent administrative decisions – that they make it up as they go along. Radical anti-tax groups, and even more radical groups whose mission is to defund and ultimately to abolish public education, have just been handed a big, fat club with which to bash our public school system at the worst possible time. Even more troubling, a pattern of disregard for a clear policy duly adopted by the School Board potentially makes LCPS vulnerable to litigation. I doubt that anyone would sue over the Sugarland restriction on Tango – but what about a future book challenge that is resolved in a way that a censorious parent dislikes? Anti-gay activist litigation groups like the Alliance Defense Fund are drooling over the prospect of such lawsuits. Their reason for being is to exploit local controversies in order to set legal precedents, and they don’t much care how much of any given local education budget they burn up in the process.

Dr. Hatrick and some members of the School Board complained Tuesday night that penguins are trumping the school budget. That’s easy to answer: If the policy had been followed, this book challenge would have been resolved in June, 2007 or earlier, and we would not be talking about it right now.

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