Grand Haven High School 17001 Ferris Grand Haven, MI 49417
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AFA questions whether GHHS broke state law with speaker
By Gena Olejarczyk, Tribune writer
The American Family Association requested Tuesday that Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm investigate whether Grand Haven High School violated a state law by including a speaker on homosexuality as part of their Diversity Day on May 1.
During the high school's first ever Diversity Day, students were randomly divided into groups to hear guest speakers on a variety of topics including racism, autism, hate crimes, religious tolerances, Native American culture and age discrimination. But it was a presentation on homophobia, delivered by Sean Kosofsky, the director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, a homosexual advocacy group from Detroit, that the AFA says may have violated a state law.
President of the AFA of Michigan Gary Glenn said that their request for an investigation into this school event was brought on by complaints from Grand Haven parents. Glenn said that the school district violated a state law by not giving parents advanced notice of the presentation's content on homosexuals and requiring attendance from students.
Chris DeWitt, spokesperson with the Attorney General's office, said this morning that the complaint will be referred to the Michigan Department of Education for review.
"It really would be best looked into by the Department of Education based on what they (the AFA) are alleging," DeWitt said.
The state law, Michigan Public Act 451, states that school districts can provide instruction on topics of human sexuality but that that instruction should be "elective and not a requirement." It further states that a student should not be exposed to classroom discussions on this topic "unless the pupil's parent or guardian is notified in advance of the course and the content of the course, is given a prior opportunity to review the material to be used in the course and is notified in advance of his or her right to have the pupil excused from class."
"We believe it's wrong to force West Michigan taxpayers to pay for the use of their classroom to promote and legitimize homosexual behavior," he said.
"We just consider that inappropriate use of public school tax dollars and public school classrooms."
But Grand Haven Superintendent Rick Kent said that the district has not violated this law since a notice of the presentation was published in the Grand Haven Tribune and aired on Channel 5, stating the subjects of all the presentations including those on "homophobia." Kent also added that students whose parents did not want them to attend the Diversity Day were excused from school.
"Some called and said my student is staying home. That was allowed," Kent said.
Glenn wrote in his complaint to Granholm, "According to the school's principal, at least one student who protested was required nonetheless to remain present during a discussion regarding 'human sexuality' that, apparently, in violation of state law."
Kent said that Grand Haven High School Scott Grimes has found no evidence that a student was forced to remain in a discussion group after objecting to the content.
"Scott has found no basis for their (statement). He's not saying that didn't happen, but no one has come to him and said they were forced to stay," Kent said, adding that no teacher has stated that he or she forced a student to stay in a discussion.
The students were broken into groups and randomly assigned to attend a couple of the 20 different discussions that day. Kent said that the purpose of the day was to discuss the negative impact of teasing and harassment on a variety of groups.
"None of these topics were about promoting that particular group," he said.
Kent said that he does not see the basis for the AFA's complaint and will contact legal counsel and wait to see what action is taken on the request.
"I haven't received a lot of concerns," he said, adding that he has only been contacted by one concerned parent.
If the high school decides to hold another Diversity Day, Kent said that changes will be made. More specific information would be released to the community and parents and students would be included on the planning committee for the event. This year the day was planned entirely by a staff committee.
"I'm very supportive of what the high school efforts were that day," he said.
Kent said he is concerned with the manner in which the complaint is being handled by the AFA.
"I am a bit concerned that they would go this route instead of calling me and sitting down and going over this information," he said.
According to Glenn, however, even with warning of the presentation to parents, the subject of homosexuals has no place in a school discussion.
"Homosexual behavior is a felony violation of Michigan's criminal code," he said. "We believe that an overwhelming majority of taxpayers believe homosexual behavior to be immoral and illegal."
Glenn said that the purpose of the AFA complaint is to determine if a law violation did occur, to inform citizens of the situation and to deter other school officials from holding presentations on this subject without notifying parents first.
"All we can do is ask that the attorney general to investigate and enforce the law," Glenn said.
· Writer Gena Olejarczyk can be reached by calling 842-8790 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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