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Gay comment starts flap in Louisiana district.

The Lafayette Parish School District in Louisiana allegedly encroached on the free speech of a 7-year-old boy recently by punishing him for telling another student that his mother is gay.

Last November, the then 6-year-old Marcus McLaurin reportedly told a classmate that he had two mothers and explained that, "Gay is when a girl likes another girl," Hampton says.

The teacher, Terry Bethea, chastised the boy in front of his classmates and sent him to the principal's office. The next day he was forced to repeatedly write, "I will never use the word gay again, Hampton says.

Marcus's mother, Sharon Huff, contacted the ACLU for assistance. As of mid-January, the ACLU was considering legal action against the Louisiana district.

Although there appears to be a boom in anti-gay behavior in public schools nationwide, Chris Hampton, public education associate at the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project with the National ACLU, says she has not noticed a trend. She says school officials could use more training to deal with the different lifestyles and cultures. "I think there is a big problem with students not knowing what their rights are and schools not knowing what theft obligations are under the law," Hampton says.

"Of course we believe that parents should be the ones who talk with small children about things like sex, but Marcus McLaurin's school seems to think that he was talking about sex when all he was talking about was his two mothers," said Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU in Louisiana, in a prepared statement.

The ACLU presented three demands to the school board. First, they requested the incident be removed from Marcus' record; second, the parish must agree to not restrict his speech in the future; and third, school officials must apologize to Marcus and his mother.

On Dec. 12, the parish school board voted 5-to-3 to refuse to apologize. According to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, several school board members accepted the explanation of school officials who said Marcus was disciplined for disrupting class. However, the explanation contradicts two disciplinary reports, signed by Bethea, who wrote the child's offense was using the word "gay" and describing it to another child. Superintendent of Schools James Easton did not return a call for comment.
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Title Annotation:Update: education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Scarpa, Steven
Publication:District Administration
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Previous Article:Student's death triggers Title IX test.
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