Janesville56.1°

Hushing a Day of Silence

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 23, 2008
— America’s culture wars boiled over at the Janesville School Board meeting Tuesday.

District residents and some board members questioned the activities of the Gay Straight Alliance, which has student chapters at Craig and Parker high schools.


The alliances have been hanging informational posters around their schools all week, leading up to the annual Day of Silence, a nationally organized effort to protest bullying of students who are lesbian, gay or transgender.


“Our children are at stake, here. I’m really, really upset,” district resident Carol Winters said about exposure to the posters.


Friday is the national Day of Silence, when students may decide not to speak in classes or in the hall to protest harassment of students who are not heterosexual.


The local clubs have observed days of silence for about five years, said Director of Student Services Karen Schulte.


Among the speakers Tuesday night was Kay Sodemann, wife of school board member Bill Sodemann. Kay Sodemann questioned whether student clubs were taking over the education of students and whether a club’s activities infringe on the rights of other students.


Kay Sodemann said the Gay Straight Alliance posters call schools unsafe.


She might have been referring to a Day of Silence message from a 2006 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The survey found that four out of five lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender students report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school.


Other speakers objected to posters at school that named famous gays and lesbians.


Bill Sodemann said he had met with district officials to discuss the situation. He is scheduled to meet today with Schulte and the district’s legal counsel, David Moore.


Schulte said Moore already has told her that if one student group is allowed to put up posters, then all groups should be allowed.


But Bill Sodemann said he asked if it would be OK to put up posters of famous Christians, and he was told that would not be allowed because it would endorse a religion.


Winters said she had seen boy-boy and girl-girl kissing and holding of hands at both Craig and Parker.


“I just find that disgustingly regretful to even watch,” she said.


Students are bullied for their faith at school and are told they are members of cults, Winters said, “but if they’re Muslim, they can bow down on their rugs and pray.”


Daniel Winters, a custodian at Parker and husband of Carol, also spoke.


Posters from the Gay Straight Alliance are on almost every wall, Daniel Winters said. “To me as a Christian, that’s offensive. … But I pay for those walls just as everyone else does, so I should be able to put up things, too.”


Board member DuWayne Severson said he was surprised to see a Gay Straight Alliance poster on Craig High School walls about every 7 feet.


Board member Kevin Murray said he has friends who are gay or lesbian, and “that’s their business,” but he questioned whether public schools should address gay and lesbian issues in this way.


Murray suggested a school activity that addressed all kinds of bullying, not just bullying of one group.


Severson asked what rules govern the activities of school clubs, and what was to prevent a group from expanding from one week to two weeks of activities.


“I’m just concerned we treat everybody the same,” Severson said.


Schulte said the principals are in charge of their schools and would act if they believed things were getting out of hand.


Superintendent Tom Evert said he would talk to the high school principals today about these issues and deliver a response to the board and the news media.



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