Friday, July 22, 2011

2011-07-22 "Napa schools face state mandate to include gay history in textbooks" by ISABELLE DILLS from "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
Napa Valley College student Sierra Sander-Hewitt believes the best way to combat bullying is through education and classroom discussion.
“Bullying often stems from ignorance,” said the 18-year-old, who waited until college to come out as bisexual.
Sander-Hewitt, along with many others from the gay community, are hoping a new bill signed by the governor this month will help prevent bullying based on sexual orientation.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill July 14 that will require California public school textbooks to include the history and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
Existing law prohibits school districts from using textbooks or other materials that discriminate against people because of race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin or ancestry. The law includes specific cultural and racial groups, among them are Native Americans, African Americans and European Americans.
This bill revises that list to explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans as well as people with disabilities.
“History should be honest,” Brown said after signing the bill. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.”
Deb Stallings, a founder of Napa Valley’s Unity League, said she hopes the bill makes public schools safer and more welcoming to gay students.
“Being included in history is so incredibly important,” Stallings said.
The bill becomes law Jan. 1, but it may be several years before the updated textbooks hit the classrooms. Education code prohibits the state board of education from adopting new textbooks until the 2014-15 school year, said Elena Toscano, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Napa Valley Unified School District.
Until then, it is up to individual school districts to determine if and how they want to implement the new curriculum.
As with all curriculum updates, the Napa Valley Unified School District will wait to receive implementation guidelines from the state’s Department of Education, Toscano said.
No money is available to pay for new curriculum, and the school district is in the middle of rolling out a language arts update that must be completed first, she said.
“This is why we need to wait for direction from the state on what they expect us to do with new legislation and no funding,” Toscano said. “It’s an interesting — and not unusual — dilemma to have such conflicts in education when decisions regarding budgets and curriculum are made by legislators independent of the Department of Education.”
According to district policy, a Curriculum Committee — made up mainly of teachers and administrators — will be formed to meet with textbook publishers after the new materials have been approved by the Department of Education.
“We select materials to pilot — usually narrowing the program to two choices with a set of criteria,” Toscano said. “These two programs are displayed in the Education Center for parent and community review for several months.”
Teachers on the committee must lead both programs for four to six weeks, and the committee will then weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both programs. The committee makes its recommendation to the school board, which has final approval, Toscano said.
Renee Fannin, a local business owner and Unity member, said she was “thrilled” to see the legislation pass. “We are people’s neighbors, community members and friends, and we deserve to be acknowledged that we exist,” she said.
When Sander-Hewitt thinks back to her high school days, she can’t remember learning anything about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. She hopes those days will soon be over for future generations.
“It’s definitely important for kids who are still finding their identity to know they’re not alone,” Sander-Hewitt said.

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