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Action by Senate Threatens L.A. Schools’ Curriculum on Gays

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

In a move that threatens Los Angeles public schools, the Senate on Monday approved an amendment that would cut off federal funds to any school district that teaches homosexuality is a “positive lifestyle alternative” through classwork, textbooks or counseling programs. The vote was 63 to 36.

The ban was added to a bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides $12.5 billion in federal funds shared by virtually all of the nation’s public schools.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, who opposes the ban, argued that it would inject the government into decision-making by local school boards.

Proponents of the ban, including Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), contended that school districts have used federal funds to buy books and other materials that are so “graphic and disgusting” that they could not be shown on the Senate floor.

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The House already has passed its version of the reauthorization bill with a milder version of the ban, barring use of federal funds for school programs that condone homosexuality. Once the Senate finally approves its reauthorization bill, the two pieces of legislation will be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences--including the ban.

Kennedy will be chairman of Senate conferees. Neither Helms nor Smith is likely to be named as a Senate member of the conference committee.

With a number of gay-friendly programs in place, the Los Angeles Unified School District would be a prime target of the proposal. The district, which is receiving $574 million in federal funds this fiscal year, long has had a counseling program for gay high school students. The district also designated June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, created a Gay and Lesbian Education Commission to advise the school board and recently sponsored its first gay student prom.

California’s two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted against the ban.

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