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Our views: District made right call in issuing gay-marriage-video apology

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May 14, 2014

The Janesville School District had to step carefully this week when it dealt with the sensitive issue of a video about same-sex marriage shown to some high school students.

The district got it right.

Superintendent Karen Schulte admitted the district erred when it showed the video, and she offered an apology on the district's behalf. Not surprisingly, supporters of gay rights and same-sex marriage were quick to criticize the district for backing down.

This isn't about whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong or whether the issue is a legitimate topic for high school students. This is about the district's policy on controversial issues, which requires that both sides be represented if a controversial issue is presented or discussed.

Regardless of your opinion on the matter, it's hard to dispute that same-sex marriage is controversial. It's being debated and adjudicated in courts across the land. It's illegal in Wisconsin. It will continue to be a topic of discussion and court battles for years to come.

A decade or more down the road, the issue might be resolved in the way that the one-time debate over interracial marriage has been settled. Or it might not be. Regardless, we're not there yet.

The video, “Kids React to Gay Marriage,” was shown during advisory periods at Craig High School during a Day of Silence observance at the school. The day was intended to be a call to action to protest the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their supporters.

WATCH THIS
Kids React to Gay Marriage (15:58)
Craig High School officials showed this video to students on April 11 during a Day of Silence observance at the school, according to a news release from the district. Superintendent Karen Schulte said the video was inappropriate because it was biased to one side of the same-sex marriage debate.

Students from the school's Gay/Straight Alliance Club selected the video, which was then approved by club advisers and the school's principal. District administration was not involved in that decision.

Three parents wrote letters complaining that students shouldn't have been shown the video.

Rather than focus on the issue of bullying, the video crossed the line into advocacy, Schulte decided.

“Once I viewed the video, I felt like it was biased to one side of the issue,” she said.

That's a valid judgment, and it essentially settled the issue of whether showing the video without a countering viewpoint violated the district's policy on controversial issues.

That led to the acknowledgement of the mistake, the apology and a vow to be proactive in ensuring that such a violation of the policy doesn't occur again. Among the district's measures will be emphasizing that clubs are subject to the policy.

Much criticism has revolved around whether the district's actions reflect a level of homophobia or whether the district is unwilling to expose students to sensitive yet important social issues. That criticism misses the point.

Same-sex marriage remains controversial, evidenced by the court battles and the reaction this week, so the district's policy applied and was not followed. That's the real issue.



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