Did graduation policy intensify book response?

Board member: Anti-gay charges exaggerated public perception
July 15, 2014

Community response to Cape Henlopen school board's removal of a book from the summer reading list may have snowballed as a result of charges of anti-gay bias at Cape High.

The board voted to remove “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” from a list of books for a summer reading assignment for ninth-graders because board members said the book contained too much profanity.

A week earlier, an article appeared in the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper in Washington, D.C., questioning a school policy that prevented students in the Gay-Straight Alliance from wearing rainbow stoles during the graduation ceremony. The story also described other anti-gay incidents at the school, including a student allegation that a teacher had made anti-gay remarks during class.

“It was a conglomeration of the issue of the child and the issue regarding the LGBT sashes that the club wanted to wear at graduation, so they ran the article," board member Jen Burton said. "Then a week later, this whole thing came up.”

Cape High Principal Brian Donahue said a student in the Gay-Straight Alliance had requested that members of the alliance be permitted to wear a rainbow stole during graduation. Donahue said he rejected the request because school policy allows only groups that are academic or community-service oriented to wear stoles.

Donahue said a few service-based groups, such as the Leo Club and Future Farmers of America, wear stoles during graduation. The Leo Club conducts fundraisers throughout the year and donates money to local charities. Living to Serve is part of the FFA motto; Donahue said Cape's FFA chapter volunteered at the Farm Bureau, Harbor Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Adopt-a-Family food drive, SPCA and to provide lawn care for elderly people.

Donahue said the emphasis for graduation stoles should be on academics. “The more it's tied into academics, the more clear it is,” he said.

The high school has about 30 different clubs, and the Gay-Straight Alliance is not considered a service-oriented group, Donahue said. He said his concern was that rainbow stoles would be worn as a political statement and that would detract from the academic event.

Darryle Presgraves, director of communications for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said federal law under the 1984 Equal Access Act is very clear about treating all clubs the same.

“There is curricular and noncurricular,” he said. “You have to treat all noncurricular clubs the same.”

Presgraves said there is no third category for service-based clubs under the Equal Access Act.

In the future, Donahue said, students may be allowed to wear only academic-related embellishments, such as National Honor Society.

Linda Gregory, president of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays group in Rehoboth Beach, said no students or parents have contacted her about issues at Cape High.

“Everything I've heard has been second- or third-hand,” she said.

Gregory said school policy should be followed concerning graduation attire.

“I think it's a nonissue at the point,” she said. “We need to move forward in a positive direction.”

As for the teacher who was accused by a student of making anti-gay remarks, Donahue said the administration investigated it and found no substantiation.