School District Refuses to Share LGBT Videos With Parents After Students Were Forced to Watch

Students seen in a high school classroom.
Students seen in a high school classroom. | (Photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe)

Parents and conservative activists are voicing outrage with a Pennsylvania school district that has refused to provide links to pro-LGBT videos that were shown to about 2,800 students in April.

In June, the social conservative religious freedom law firm the Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the superintendent of the East Penn School District to request that the district disclose links to four videos that were shown to students at Emmaus High School during the school district's LGBT "Unity Week" in April.

The videos were part of activities organized for "Unity Week" and the nationwide "Day of Silence" sponsored by the national LGBT lobbying group GLSEN. The four videos that were shown to students were sponsored by the school's Gay Straight Alliance club.

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Principal Kate Kieres explained in a letter dated May 2 that one of the videos in question was titled "9 Questions Gay People Have About Straight People." Another video was a clip from a CBS News story that explains what it means to be "gender fluid" and the negative experiences that people with fluid genders have in interacting with others.

The third video "was a compilation of clips celebrating marriage equality." The fourth video was titled "Show your pride. Share your love" and included clips similar to those from the third video.

"I have looked further into the 1-2 minute video clips that were shown last week as part of the morning announcements," Kieres wrote in the letter. "I learned that they were not created by the students in the communications class but were pulled from YouTube and other online sources by the students in our GSA club and sent to the TV studio as part of their 'Day of Silence' project. I also learned that this practice was not new this year. Similar videos have been shown during the week leading up to the 'Day of Silence' for at least the past four years."

Despite parents' requests to see the videos, Kieres stated that the school board solicitor has advised that "these videos cannot be sent to you, because they are part of a student project."

Parents, along with the president of the state's chapter of the American Family Association, objected at a school board meeting last month. They argued that their rights had been violated because they were not informed of the videos and were not given the opportunity to opt their children out of viewing the videos.

"Would the school allow the opposite view to be presented to the students?" Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, a social conservative advocacy group, was quoted as saying by WFMZ-TV.

In the June 22 letter to the school district, Liberty Counsel attorney Richard Mast threatened potential legal action under the state's "Right to Know" law if the school doesn't provide the parents with the links to the videos and all emails sent to the principal or the school's GSA adviser pertaining to the "Day of Silence," GLSEN or any of the videos.

"It does not pass the straight face test for the District to claim it need not provide parents with the actual video links, although the District required more than 2,800 students to view these videos, with no prior notice to their parents, and no opportunity to opt-out. This is a gross violation of parental rights," Mast argued. "The links to the videos are public records, notwithstanding claimed 'selection' of the videos by the ostensibly 'student-led' Gay-Straight Alliance ('GSA') as part of an alleged 'student project.' It would be convenient indeed if school districts could bypass all public records laws and parental notice and consent requirements for objectionable content, by finding a willing 'student group' to 'select' the material for them."

The Christian Post reached out to the school district for comment on the Liberty Counsel letter but no response was received by press time.

Outgoing Superintendent Michael Schilder had previously told the local The Morning Call that "student expression must always be protected."

"A parent or member of the public has no right to view or access a student's term paper, speech, or multimedia project just because he or she objects to the topic," he said.

Community members who support the student's showing of the video spoke at a board meeting last Monday.

Student Aidan Levinson, the student that vetted the videos, spoke during the board meeting and argued that the videos weren't forcing a homosexual lifestyle on students and served as "more of an anti-bullying effort more than anything else."

Valerie Minett told the board that she and her wife have three adopted children, who she says have faced bullying for having two moms. She put blame on School Director Carol Allen for raising awareness of the issue.

"Nobody should have to fight for rights that we are all entitled to," Minett was quoted as saying. "I'm disgusted that a member of our school board invited hate into our community."

Mast gave the school district a month to comply with the demands of the letter. He warned that if legal action is required, a court may award substantial legal fees and could present a heavy cost to the school district. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmithFollow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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