Bias complaint filed against CdM

The Orange County Equality Coalition has filed a complaint with the state accusing Corona del Mar High School of discriminating against an organization that offers support to gays and lesbians.

The coalition alleges in a Department of Education filing that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District violated state laws by requiring parents to sign permission slips allowing their children to receive information about HIV/AIDS and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) at CdM's annual Diversity Day event.

"The district seems to be improperly requiring parental permission for all HIV/AIDS and sex education, even though the education code clearly says that parents only have the right to opt their child out of that instruction," according to the complaint from the coalition.

The education code states that "a parent or guardian of a pupil has the right to excuse their child from all or part of comprehensive sexual health education, HIV/AIDS-prevention education and assessments related to that education."

According to the coalition, the district misinterpreted the code by requiring permission slips for students to opt in to a presentation. The complaint says the code only allows an opt-out requirement.

"The only organization that had to get special permission was an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) group," said Karyl Ketchum, a coalition member serving on the school compliance task force. "This is evidence that they are biased against the LGBT community."

The coalition created the task force in August to monitor and support Orange County schools in their efforts to comply with anti-discrimination laws, she said.

Giorgos Kazanis, public information officer with the California Department of Education, verified that the complaint was received and is being investigated.

Newport-Mesa's investigation into the incident determined that every presentation that was deemed "age appropriate for high school only" required permission slips, district spokeswoman Laura Boss wrote in an email.

"The permission slip was based upon the criteria established under the education code as cited in the written decision and was determined that the action was not discriminatory against the PFLAG panel," she wrote.



CdM has been plagued by a fair share of controversy surrounding the gay and lesbian community.

In 2009, Ketchum's daughter was involved in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit after several CdM varsity athletes allegedly posted a video showing them threatening to rape and kill her. At the time, she was the lead actress in a student production of the musical "Rent." The athletes allegedly used slurs to describe another classmate who they believed was gay.

In response to the lawsuit, the district agreed to provide harassment- and discrimination-prevention training to CdM students, teachers and administrators.

However, Ketchum said her involvement in LGBT issues began long before the lawsuit. She teaches women's and gender studies at Cal State Fullerton.

"It was a bit ironic that it happened to my daughter since this is the area I study," she said.

CdM continued to make headlines across the nation in 2009 when its principal at the time canceled "Rent" because of concerns about its content, which includes homosexuality and prostitution themes. Students were eventually able to put on a watered-down version of the rock opera.



Newport-Mesa was one of the first districts to be found incompliant with the laws, Ketchum asserted.

The coalition is also focusing on Capistrano Unified School District, where officials refused to update the curriculum to be more inclusive, she said.

"If our schools aren't going to comply, we need to tell them to do so," she said. "We would much rather help them come into compliance than file these types of complaints."

The coalition initially filed a complaint with Newport-Mesa in April, alleging that the district was out of compliance with the education code over the permission slips issue and for not having a complaint form available for individuals who allege unlawful discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying.

The coalition took issue with the district's online complaint procedure, saying it "misleadingly states that there is no official form for filing a claim of sexual harassment of students or hate-motivated behavior." The coalition wrote that the wording makes "it difficult to file complaints" against the schools.

The district, in response, and without admitting fault, created and posted a complaint form. The district wrote in a May letter to the coalition that the complaint form is only mandatory if the complaint pertains to instructional materials or emergency faculty situations that pose a threat to the health or safety of students or staff.

The district, in the letter, said it would investigate the Diversity Day complaint and admitted that permission slips were required for student attendance at the PFLAG presentation.

The district also invited the coalition to a pursue mediation or hold an investigative meeting to decipher the intent behind requiring permission slips on Diversity Day at CdM.

The coalition declined mediation because it didn't believe investigative findings into the intent of the administration would be relevant to what was deemed to be a violation of law, Ketchum said.

The district said permission slips were required for both PFLAG and the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County's presentations, meaning they were not discriminating.

Ketchum pointed to positive things the district is doing at other campuses. For example, at Newport Harbor High School, student body President Wyatt Robertson is receiving an award for being an ally to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students.

"There's a lot of good things that are happening, but there's also a lot of work to be done," she said. "My fear is that Corona del Mar is more of a problem than other schools in the district."

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