On Monday, members of the Emmaus High School community attended an East Penn School Board meeting dedicated to an April event in which students were shown videos titled “BuzzFeed Presents: 9 Questions Gay People Have for Straight People” and “Show Your Pride. Share Your Love,” according to the Morning Call, a Pennsylvania news website.
“[The videos are essentially] giving advice to straight kids about how to be more sensitive to gay kids,” Superintendent Michael Schilder told the Morning Call of the April 27 presentation about a national Day of Silence. The day is a student-led event conceived by GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) during which people take vows of silence to symbolize the suppression of LGBTQ students.
However, when some parents learned of the videos, they were upset that family consent wasn’t required, nor were students given the option to decline the experience. For example, per the Morning Call, a father named Mike Huff said that watching the videos made his heterosexual son feel “bullied” for his own orientation.
The issue got litigious when some parents requested to view the footage, which the school denied. “A parent or member of the public has no right to view or access a student’s term paper, speech or multimedia project just because he or she objects to the topic,” Schilder said on June 12, per the Morning Call.
Last week, the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit dedicated to “Restoring the culture by advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family” sent a letter to Schilder. The letter argued that not warning parents of the “coercive” videos ahead of time “is a gross violation of parental rights” and requested that the specific links that were shown to students, as well as any associated material, be released.
“The Constitution states that parents should have a significant role in their children’s upbringing and, traditionally, schools have respected that right — it’s a fundamental liberty that makes America great,” litigation attorney Richard Mast, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. He argues that because the videos were not created by students, they don’t qualify as student projects, as Schilder suggests, and that going forward, faith-based groups should receive equal treatment from the school.
Some of the students and parents blamed the outrage surrounding the videos on the Lehigh Valley Tea Party and school director Carol Allen. One mother named Valerie Minett, who is married to a woman, said her adopted children have been bullied for having two moms but has always felt supported by the faculty at the school. “Nobody should have to fight for rights that we are all entitled to,” she said, per the Morning Call. “I’m disgusted that a member of our school board invited hate into our community.”
Yahoo Lifestyle was unable to reach Schilder or a representative from GLSEN for comment. However, Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, who has not viewed the videos, told Yahoo Lifestyle, “It’s possible that parents have the right to opt their children out of certain curriculum that contradicts their religious beliefs, but a successful argument in retrospect is unlikely.”
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