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Student's report on Harvey Milk prompts censorship claim

By The Associated Press
05.21.09

SAN FRANCISCO — The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday threatened to sue a San Diego County school that refused to let a student present a report on slain gay-rights leader Harvey Milk until her classmates got their parents' permission to hear it.

David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego County, said the principal of Mt. Woodson Elementary School in Ramona violated the free speech rights of sixth-grader Natalie Jones, who was the only student in her class prevented from giving an in-class presentation. Principal Theresa Grace concluded last month that the subject of the girl's project triggered a district policy requiring parents to be notified in writing before their children are exposed to lessons dealing with sex, according to Blair-Loy and Natalie's mother.

After the principal sent letters to alert parents about the "sensitive topic," Natalie was allowed to give her 12-page PowerPoint report during the May 8 lunch recess, but not in class, Blair-Loy said. Eight of the 13 students in her class attended, he said.

In a letter to the Ramona Unified District, the ACLU demanded that school officials apologize to Natalie and clarify its sex education policy. The group also wants the girl to be given the chance to present her biographical account of Milk's life and death in class.

"It's not about sex, it's not about sex education. It's a presentation about a historical figure who happened to be gay," Blair-Loy said.

The school district superintendent did not respond to a telephone call and e-mail from the Associated Press in time for this story.

Milk became one of the first gay men elected to political office in the United States in 1977 when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated a year later along with Mayor George Moscone. Former supervisor Dan White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the killings.

A bill passed recently by the California Legislature would establish Milk's May 22 birthday as an annual "day of significance" in the state, a move designed to encourage schools to discuss his career and legacy.

Bonnie Jones said her daughter was inspired to choose Milk as the subject of her research report after seeing the movie "Milk," which earned Academy Awards for actor Sean Penn and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

"First my daughter got called into the principal's office as if she were in some kind of trouble, and then they treated her presentation like it was something icky," Jones said in a statement.

"Harvey Milk was an elected official in this state and an important person in history," Jones added. "To say my daughter's presentation is sex education because Harvey Milk happened to be gay is completely wrong."


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