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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


West Virginia Removes Lesbians and Gays from Anti-bullying Program

[CHARLESTON, WV] -The West Virginia attorney general's office has cut lesbians and gays out of an anti-bullying program for public schools. The changes came after conservative groups claimed that the program promoted homosexuality.

The state Board of Education voted in October to halt the Civil Rights Team Project, pending an investigation. The investigation has not been completed, but in December the board adopted a revised student code of conduct that prohibits bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The Civil Rights Team Project was designed to teach students to recognize and prevent bullying.

Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said the revised program will not specify groups of children who could be bullied or harassed.

"We just want to prevent children from being targeted, period," she said. "We won't focus on why, just that they are and we hope to do something about it."

Publications that referred to hate crimes based on sexual orientation or that encouraged students to serve as support systems for gay students have been removed from the program, she said.

Some of the material that was removed was provided by the National Education Association, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

"The materials were not prepared in our office and as soon as they were brought to our attention, we studied them," Hughes said. "We decided to pull them out of the schools because we didn't think it was a matter our office should be involved in."

Hughes said she plans to include parents and groups such as the anti- gay American Family Association in discussions about the revamped program.

"We want to emphasize how we are alike rather than how we are different," she said. "We all have a share in humanity and don't want to single out specific groups."

The West Virginia chapter of the American Family Association had criticized the Civil Rights Team Project as having a hidden, "anti- Christian" agenda that promoted homosexuality. In August, chapter president Kevin McCoy called it "nothing short of the indoctrination of children to accept the homosexual lifestyle."

McCoy said he was pleased with the program's revisions. He said his biggest objection was references to hate crimes against gays.

Supporters of the program were upset by the board's suspension, and view the new program with a great deal of suspicion.

"It doesn't hurt anyone," teacher Donna Jo Young said of the Civil Rights Team Project. "It's not like a police force, it's about coming together."

Paul Sheridan, the head of the attorney general's civil rights division, started the project after hearing of the success of a similar program in Maine.

"We teach kids how to react to incidents of intolerance, that there are thing that they can do to prevent it, that putdowns, slurs and bullying behavior is unacceptable," he said.

The program had spread to over twenty schools in West Virginia. In Maine, it is used in around 190 schools, over half the schools in the state.

Principal David Book of Liberty High School, one of the participating West Virginia schools, said that opposition to the program was "misinformed."

"To have young people attempting to set an example for their peers has far greater impact than anything we as adults do," he said, brushing aside allegations that the program was creating a "politically-correct thought police."

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