Holyoke School Committee Shuns Member
By Mike Plaisance, The Republican, January 08, 2013
HOLYOKE – A School Committee member’s bid to have the board control how the schools handle assemblies and controversial issues failed Tuesday night.
The effort was prompted by the tentatively scheduled assembly by the Holyoke High School Gay Straight Alliance set for Feb. 15.
The assembly is on acceptance and awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people, alliance president Elvin Bruno Jr. said before the meeting..
Ward 4 committee member Cesar Lopez proposed three measures on the issue and all failed.
Lopez proposed that the content of all assemblies be approved by the School Committee, that all assemblies be held after school hours and that parents be notified about all assemblies to they can opt out of having children attend. The committee defeated it on voice vote.
Two other proposals from Lopez failed for lack of other members seconding his motions. One would have mandated that administrators adhere to guidelines in the existing policy that covers the teaching of controversial issues and having controversial speakers address students.
The other Lopez proposal that failed for lack of a second would have required that schools send parents letters 25 days before an event so they can opt to have their children skip it.
The committee did approve a generic motion to discuss the policy that covers the teaching of controversial issues and having controversial speakers address students.
Lopez’ proposals prompted a rebuke from Mayor Alex B. Morse. Morse, who is School Committee chairman, founded the Gay Straight Alliance after coming out as gay when he was 16.
Such assemblies are about teaching students about differences in order to stop slurs and worse treatment and ensure all students feel safe at school, he said.
“For us to sit around here and make a stink about something that’s student-led … I think it’s a disgrace,” Morse said.
“The very people that would opt out of this assembly are the very people that need to hear the message that it’s not OK to call someone a ‘faggot,'” he said.
Lopez said he wanted parental notification rules followed. He disputed the contention made by committee member Michael J. Moriarty and others that his proposals were attempts to censure principals and other school staff.
He answered Morse’s point about safety at school by noting his 14-year-old son attends Holyoke High.
“I’m not against our children’s safety, because one of my children is a student at Holyoke High School,” Lopez said.
Lopez didn’t address gay issues during the meeting, saying at one point he wasn’t “talking about anything about an alliance of gays.”
Asked before the meeting why he proposed the measures, Lopez said, “I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about parents and constituents that called me on that.”
The assembly was supposed to be Dec. 21, but classes at that school were cancelled that day because of a water main break on the property.
City Council President Kevin A. Jourdain addressed the issue during the committee’s public comment period. He supported Lopez’ proposals, he said, because state law requires schools notify parents about events that deal with sexual education and sexuality, and the assembly would be about that.
“I would ask that the law be adhered to,” Jourdain said.
Some members said the committee must refrain from such micro-managing of administrators and school staff.
“That’s a censure,” Moriarty said. “I’m sure Mr. Lopez didn’t intend it as a censure, but that’s the only way I can read it.”