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Snoqualmie Valley School Board, Hutcherson hear heated debate about MLK Day speech at Mt. Si High School
Snoqualmie Valley School Board, Hutcherson hear heated debate about MLK Day speech at Mt. Si High School
by SGN Staff

Rev. Ken Hutcherson's "war" against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender equality moved outside the halls of corporate America and the realm of politics when controversy swelled over his invitation to speak at Snoqualmie's Mt. Si High School Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly.

On Thursday, February 7, the issue became so heated that it eclipsed the Snoqualmie Valley School Board's meeting agenda and brought concerned citizens on both sides of the issue to pack into the overflowing board meeting room, including Hutcherson himself.

During the assembly, Hutcherson was booed by one teacher and asked about his anti-LGBT views by another, who is also the school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) advisor. Mt. Si's principal, as well as the Snoqualmie Valley School District Superintendent and School Board, have all apologized to Hutcherson for his ill treatment by school district staff. A letter from Mt. Si Principal Randy W. Taylor, dated February 7, said "appropriate action" had been taken with staff; that a review of the policies and procedures would take place; and that a task force of students, teachers and parents would be established to "review guidelines and make suggestions."

Some applauded the actions of the teachers at the school board meeting on Thursday; others claimed it was an embarrassment and was poor modeling for their students. Still, many agreed the controversy has opened a dialogue in the small community about LGBT students and their right to a safe and harassment free learning environment.

"I also think that to invite an anti-Gay person was sending a wrong message to students at Mount Si," said one student. "We shouldn't cast blame, but rather learn from this and accept diversity," added another student.

Joseph R. Bento, M. Ed., was among those assembled at the school board meeting. In addition to being the education and training director for the Washington State chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Bento is a high school teacher in a neighboring district and a GSA advisor.

"I'm here to provide information. I'm here to support the GSA and their advisor," he said. "After all, the job of our schools is to teach our students. In order to do that, we need to keep them safe - at all costs."

GLSEN provided school board members with written testimony and a copy of a new research brief, which shows that GSA's can improve a school environment for LGBT students. According to Bento, GLSEN Washington State conducted an anti-harassment training for school staff at Mt. Si High School last year.

"I don't know if our words had an impact," he concedes. "On the one hand, school staff spoke up for their students - for those unable to speak up for themselves - yet other school staff gave Hutcherson another forum to espouse his views. I think GLSEN has more work to do."

Bento said GLSEN Washington State hopes to meet with Taylor and School District Superintendent G. Joel Aune later this year about the incident and offer their expertise.

"We are interested in an honest and open dialogue with them," he said. "GLSEN has done work in this district and we want to expand upon what we have already accomplished."

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