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Mt. Si High School fails its own mission statements with MLK Day debacle
Mt. Si High School fails its own mission statements with MLK Day debacle
by Rev. Barbara Allen - SGN Contributing Writer

Americans celebrate and respect the work and life of Martin Luther King Jr., and his wife, who are both worthy of being honored. Some of us are familiar with the work of his wife, Coretta Scott King, including a few of her famous quotes and words of wisdom. "I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation," she once said. "Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood."

"Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don't believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others," she was quoted as saying.

The mission statement of the Snoqualmie School District and Mt. Si High School, along with the teachings of Rev. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, were most recently dishonored at the mandatory January 17 assembly at MSHS to celebrate Rev. King. Faculty and students were shocked and their trust betrayed when the assembly's featured speaker was the notorious homophobe Ken Hutcherson.

After Hutcherson spoke on MLK day at MSHS a few years ago, students and faculty objected to his speech. Afterward, there were assurances that he would not be invited to return. One of the administrators of that unfortunate event was and remains a Vice Principal of MSHS, who could not have been unaware that the man was an ongoing persona non grata.

Unfortunately, selective amnesia seemed to have taken hold when Hutcherson was put forward as this year's MLK speaker. Several objections were made days before the assembly by the MSHS Gay Straight Alliance, a courageous group of about 20 students who endeavor to make their school safe for everyone. Assurances were given that their concerns were understood and that Hutcherson would not speak. Imagine the betrayal many felt once inside the required assembly when Hutcherson turned out to be the speaker! What a mixed message for the trapped students: "We, your educators, bring you this man as a teacher and role model to be respected and listened to - although we know he's homophobic."

Two faculty members had the integrity to not sit still and let this betrayal of trust go unchallenged. One booed the speaker to show that not everyone supported Hutcherson's appearance.

When Hutcherson was finished speaking, another faculty member, aware of the serious nature of the betrayal of mission statement and trust, requested politely to ask a question of Hutcherson. The student emceeing the event assented and the GSA advisor asked, "Given your outspoken opposition to health benefits for domestic partners, what do you think about the student quote that opened this assembly: 'All people are created equal and should be treated equally'?" Hutcherson did not respond, and the assembly was dismissed.

The teacher who raised the question was respectful, trying to give Hutcherson an opportunity to stand on his public sentiment and explain himself to the students. It's a sad day when a teacher is criticized or disciplined for raising a sincere, legitimate question in the interest of consideration of their students.

The school district does not appear to be adequately supportive of Gay and Lesbian youth. The only two youths who came out at the school a few years ago lived to regret it, and left the unsupportive environment by transferring.

Are the principal, superintendent, and members of the school board so uneducated and behind the times that they don't know enough to research the names of potential guest speakers? Is even a simple Google search beyond their grasp?

Perhaps most hypocritically, they have chosen not to adhere to the Snoqualmie school district mission statement, which includes the following excerpt:

"[We pledge to] Expect the highest and greatest development of self-esteem, intellectual and creative abilities through a diverse and integrated curriculum, in a & caring and safe environment; Foster acceptance, appreciation and respect among students for themselves and others in the tradition of the cultural and ethnic diversity of our community, nation and world; Promote understanding and appreciation of the rights, duties, privileges and responsibilities through active involvement as a citizen in an ever-changing world &"

Principal Taylor declined to return the calls of an SGN writer. When Snoqualmie Superintendent Aune was interviewed by phone about the incident, he stated that Taylor was investigating, but hadn't yet gotten back to him - a process which has taken over two weeks, although they are all on the same campus. When asked if the assembly had been videotaped, Aune was unsure.

The SGN spoke to Washington State Human Rights Commissioner Jerry Hebert, who stated, "I saw news articles the day after the event, and our staff is in touch with the teachers involved. It was appropriate to question any individual who stands before an audience advocating a position of inclusion and respect, when they also have a position of exclusion of some people, regardless of who that group might be. The teacher who questioned the speaker was attempting to help students recognize the full spectrum of critical thinking. Discrimination, no matter where we find it is discrimination, and is against the law."

Commissioner Hebert's personal experience and feeling is that "Rev. Hutcherson advocates for the removal of equal rights that were hard fought for by the Gay Community for over 30 years. It's historic record that Hutcherson attempted to repeal equal rights legislation."

"When we have a speaker with that history, it is important that we understand that when they say 'inclusion' and 'respect for everyone,' it [means] except for somebody they personally don't like," Hutcherson added. Hebert would like to see more stringent requirements placed on educators. "The HRC is more than willing to offer diversity awareness and sensitivity training about our anti-discrimination laws, how they work, what they look like, and how to implement effective policy to prevent people or organizations from breaking laws," said Hebert. "To the best of my knowledge, this training is not required of our educators." Hebert encourages those interested in making this training mandatory contact him at commissionerhebert@earthlink.net.

On Tuesday, the SGN received word from "a friend of the GSA" regarding a Snoqualmie School Board meeting to be held February 7. A group was preparing to speak against the GSA and the advisor who spoke out.

The public can help in the following ways, now and in the days and weeks to come:

If they reside in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, their testimony at an upcoming school board meeting would be beneficial. Visit the school district's website (www.svsd410.org) for more information.

If testifying seems intimidating, or if people live outside the district, they can also attend a board meeting to show support for the GSA and the staff who opposed Rev. Hutcherson's appearance. Anyone planning to attend should RSVP the Safe Schools Coalition by e-mailing intervention@SafeSchoolsCoalition.org.

Concerned citizens can also submit testimony in writing the night of the meetings, or to Snoqualmie Valley school board members directly. The school board members are Rudy Edwards (district 1), Caroline Loudenback (district 2), Kathryn Lerner (district 3), Marci Busby (district 4), and Kristy Sullivan (district 5).

No matter where people live, they can always send an e-mail of emotional support to Friends of GSA, an ad hoc group trying to support these Mt. Si youth and staff people, at friendsofgsa@centurytel.net.

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