West Middle School
44401 W Ann Arbor Trl
Plymouth, Michigan 48170
or you can contact them by snail or phone at
1999-2000 Board of Education
Susan E. Davis, President
Elizabeth M. Givens, Vice President
Judy Mardigian, Secretary
Darwin Watts, Treasurer
Roland J. Thomas, Jr.,
Thought you might find this of interest.
Plymouth Observer, Plymouth, MI
(E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
( http://observer-eccentric.com )
Oct. 12, 1999
Schools ban gay history display By Tony Bruscato, Staff Writer,
Two Plymouth-Canton teachers are filing grievances against the school District after being forced to dismantle school displays depicting Gay and Lesbian History Month.
The teachers, Mike Chiumento, a music teacher at West Middle School, and Tom Salbenblatt, a math teacher at Plymouth Salem, both of whom are gay, were asked to take down their displays this week. After refusing the request, the two were then ordered to take them down in a written notice from Superintendent Ken Walcott, which they complied with Thursday.
"We know there are gay kids at the high school," said Salbenblatt. "They are isolated and receive verbal as well as physical assault, and some attempt suicide. I put up the bulletin board in conjunction with our school mission, which is 'Dignity and Respect for All.' "
Salbenblatt said his bulletin board consisted of statistics relating to the gay population, contributions made by gay people in history, and an affirmation by Coretta Scott King stating homophobia is a form of bigotry.
"It comes down to being homophobic. The school administration caved in," said Chiumento. "People fear gay people because they are ignorant. This is a great opportunity for parents to have discussion with their kids about diversity."
Apparently it was those discussions that led to approximately a dozen complaints from West parents, and a handful of complaints concerning the high school display.
Chiumento's showcase originally consisted of a couple of books about gays and lesbians, a newspaper article about a baseball player who declared he is gay, a small rainbow flag which represents the gay movement, bumper stickers with pink triangles to remember gays murdered in the Holocaust, and a safe zone sticker with pink triangles in which people are encouraged to tolerate others, including those with diverse sexual orientation.
The display was changed by assistant principal Maureen Murphy, who took out one of the books and added books on African-Americans and Native Americans.
"I was just told by Mr. Chiumento he wanted to do a display on diversity, so I let him," said Murphy, who approves showcase displays at West. "I didn't know it was going to be a one-issue display and I told him we needed to make it more diverse."
Walcott was adamant in his stance that sexual orientation wasn't a part of Plymouth-Canton's curriculum.
"When we hire staff, we don't ask them their race, color, creed or lifestyle," said Walcott. "But, once we hire, we practice K-12 instructional goals adopted by the Board of Education, not lifestyle make-up. That's not our mission."
Chiumento said a similar display has been showcased at West for the last five years and nothing has ever been said about taking it down. Salbenblatt noted he had a similar display last year and had a few complaints, but wasn't forced to take down the exhibit.
School administrators are being backed up by several school board members who heard about the displays, and in some cases received complaints from parents.
"I don't understand how this is a part of our curriculum," said Sue Davis, school board president. "The school displays need to be centered around curriculum issues."
"Gay material and sexual preference are not a function of educating our kids," added Trustee Darwin Watts. "Our goal is to educate kids around core subjects."
"I wonder why we would post information about gay lifestyle in a middle school hallway. And what does it have to do with a high school math class?" questioned school board member Judy Mardigian. "Parents need to be notified of this kind of exposure."
Only a few parents complained, but they apparently were loud enough for the administration to hear and make the changes.
"This debatable subject matter doesn't need to be in the schools," said one West mother, who wanted to remain anonymous. "I didn't sign any paper to have my child taught this type of sex education."
"It's not age appropriate to advertise a sexual choice in the middle school," said another West mother, who also didn't want to be identified.
David Greened, a teacher at West, said he had no problem with the amended display.
"I think it looks attractive. I don't see anything controversial."
Plymouth-Canton Education Association President, Chuck Portal, said the teacher's union will back up the two educators.
Freedom of speech
"We'll look at academic freedom and First Amendment rights," said Portal. "In my opinion, a handful of people are forcing change at the high school and at West on information students should receive. I don't think a handful of people represent the community at large. We can't continue to put our heads in the sand and denying there are gay students and employees."
Salbenblatt said a number of students quizzed him about the missing materials on Friday.
"I told them it was censorship. It's telling students it's not OK to be different," he said.
In it's place, Salbenblatt put a quote from Goethe stating "there is nothing more frightening than active ignorance."
After taking down his display, Chiumento hung up a sign in the empty showcase which said "Censored."
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Last updated 11/5/99 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU