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School District Sued for Forcing Gay Propaganda

Monday, 11 February 2002 12:00 AM

The parents say school employees forced the kids to attend the play "Cootie Shots," even though the parents had signed opt-out forms to prevent their children from being exposed to sexually-oriented discussions.

The play was performed last year at two elementary schools that are part of the Novato Unified School District in California's Marin County.

Fringe Benefits, a group describing itself as a "coalition of theater activists dedicated to building bridges between gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and their straight peers, teachers, and parents," presented "Cootie Shots" on Feb. 26, 2001 at Pleasant Valley Elementary School and on Mar. 2, 2001 at San Ramon Elementary School. The audience was third, fourth and fifth graders.

"Cootie Shots," also the title of a book, refers to the schoolyard taunt that children use to brag that they have been inoculated against the "cooties" of other children who might be different from them in some way. The book is meant to "promote tolerance and celebrate diversity," according to its authors, Norma Bowles and Mark E. Rosenthal.

The Novato School District Diversity Program has similar objectives.

"The [Novato Unified School] District's goal is to make sure that children feel safe in school and part of that feeling of security comes from knowing that unkind things will not be said to you or about you by other children or adults," according to a statement from the minutes of a March 20, 2001 school district meeting.

However, Brad Dacus, spokesman for Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal defense organization representing the eight parents in the lawsuit, said the play contained "homosexual overtures" that led children to believe that homosexuality is acceptable and that those who don't approve are "hate-filled bigots."

Despite the opt-out forms the parents had signed and returned to the schools to exclude their children from programs such as "Cootie Shots," Dacus said that no students were excluded and that school staff members ended up telling the parents that many of the opt-out forms had gotten lost.

Dianne Pavia, a spokeswoman for Novato Unified School District, was unable to comment about the lost forms. Nor would she comment on specifics of the play, because of the lawsuit, except to say that it was not meant to advance any agenda other than the safety of children.

The assembly's purpose was to "work with kids around the issue of bullying, name-calling, and harassing of all kinds," Pavia said. These issues are a "national concern for all parents" and the school district is dedicated to making their schools "as safe a place as possible for all students."

Dacus insists that the core issue is parental rights and that his clients' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were violated.

"This lawsuit is the first in a major litigation campaign to combat school districts who attempt to undermine the statutory and constitutional rights of parents," Dacus said. "We intend to aggressively sue every school district that similarly violates the rights of parents."

The parents seek unspecified financial damages in their lawsuit, plus a permanent injunction to prevent programs such as "Cootie Shots" from being shown to students in the future without parental notification and written consent, Dacus said.

Whenever "irreconcilable damage has been done to children," Dacus said, Pacific Justice Institute will make it as costly and painful as possible for offending schools. Dacus said his organization wanted schools to know that there's a "high price to be paid" for ignoring parental rights.

One skit in the play that angered the parents was "The Parable of the Stimples," during which a group of "funny noise-making people" are ridiculed. The script states, "BUT the BIG PROBLEM was that everyone was taught that making funny noises was BAD! Wrong! Something to be afraid of!"

During the play, Stimple Gilbert is sent to the principal's office after making a funny noise, only to discover that the principal himself is a secret noisemaker.

When Gilbert's parents discover that Gilbert is a noisemaker, they react with embarrassment. They tell Gilbert not to make the noise so that he can be "normal like them." Soon, Gilbert discovers that people are "afraid" of the noise.

At that point, the narrator encourages the audience to save Gilbert by making a loud noise themselves.

"Make a noise for Gilbert!" the narrator says. "Make a noise for all of the Stimples in the world."

In an interview with TCG Books, Norma Bowles, one of the book's authors, spoke about a parent who had previously complained about the book's content.

"After seeing the show, this parent apologized to the other parents and to the teachers and administrators and bought a book on tolerance for the school library. We subsequently went back and did theater for social justice workshops for every child in that school."

In an online journal at AskPlay.org, the book's other author, Mark E. Rosenthal wrote about his determination to get his message out to students.

"We've got it!" he wrote in a May, 1999 entry. "Three assemblies! For a s******* of kids. 100 or more per show, depending on how many parents do the wrong thing and refuse permission."

In a later entry, Rosenthal wrote, "I AM BURNING ... Those stupid m************ are at it again ... A****** parents are posting signs around the school we're visiting Monday, urging people to keep their kids home to protest the show ... They still hate us. And I still hate them right back."

The lawsuit was filed in December. No hearing has been scheduled yet.

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The parents say school employees forced the kids to attend the play Cootie Shots, even though the parents had signed opt-out forms to prevent their children from being exposed to sexually-oriented discussions. The play was performed last year at two elementary schools...
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Monday, 11 February 2002 12:00 AM
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