When California sixth grader Natalie Jones was assigned to write a paper on any subject that interested her, she chose Harvey Milk. Despite receiving 49 out of a possible 50 point-score on her paper, when it came time to give the in-class Power Point presentation, Natalie was called into the Principals office and told she couldn’t give her project presentation.
In what the ACLU has characterized as a gross misinterpretation of the school’s sex education policy, the school sent out letters to Natalie’s classmates’ parents to secure permission for her to make her presentation during a recess period.
From the ACLU site: “According to a demand letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union to the Ramona Unified School District today, the school violated Natalie Jones’s free speech rights when it refused to allow her to give the presentation in class. Instead, the school improperly required classmates to get parental permission to see the presentation during a lunch recess.”
“The principal and superintendent grossly misinterpreted school policy. They illegally censored student speech protected by the First Amendment and the California Education Code,” said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “Writing or talking about a gay historical figure who advocated for equal rights for LGBT Californians is in no way the same thing as talking about sex, and school officials should not pretend otherwise.”
Elizabeth Gill, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national LGBT Project, said: “Schools that act as if any mention of the existence of gay people is something too controversial or ‘sensitive’ to discuss are doing a disservice to their students. This school completely overstepped its bounds in trying to silence Natalie Jones by shunting her presentation off to a lunch recess time and misusing a school policy to justify requiring parental permission to see it.”
Bonnie Jones, mother of the Mt. Woodson Elementary School student, said “Harvey Milk was an elected official in this state and an important person in history. To say my daughter’s presentation is ‘sex education’ because Harvey Milk happened to be gay is completely wrong.”
Natalie chose Harvey Milk as the subject of her report and presentation after seeing Sean Penn win the The Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film, Milk.
In unrelated related news, The California Senate, on May 14, 2009 passed a bill declaring a Harvey Milk Day in California to honor the slain gay rights figure. The measure passed the state Senate 24-14. The bill now goes to the State Assembly.
Abel Maldonado (Santa Maria), the sole Republican “yes” vote, had a change of heart from his “no” vote of last year. (Last year, the Milk bill made it through the Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said it would be more appropriate to honor Milk on a local level). When the measure came up again this year, Maldonado voted in favor of establishing the special day after he heard Dustin Lance Black, who also won an Academy Award for his screenplay of the movie “Milk,” address the Senate Education Committee recently. When Black, who is Gay, told the Senate that Harvey Milk was someone he looked up to, Maldonado said he took Black’s sentiment to heart and decided to vote for the special day. About his “No” vote last year, Maldonado said he erred in believing that the bill would force, instead of “encourage,” the teaching of Milk’s life.
Maldonado also said he doesn’t see why Harvey Milk Day shouldn’t be declared for the entire state.
Comes the dawn…one dawn at a time.