By Charlsie Dewey
Deerfield High School has recently come under attack from a small group of parents seeking the termination of a panel that includes a presentation by the Straight and Gay Alliance as part of a diversity unit.
Lora Sue Hauser, head of North Shore Student Advocacy, the group pressing for the panel's end, declined to speak with Windy City Times about why her group so adamantly wants the program canceled, but she did recently tell the Chicago Tribune, 'The school makes heterosexuality and homosexuality equivalent, and our country is deeply divided on that.'
Suzan Hebson, assistant superintendent for human resources for Township High School District 113, says that there is a misunderstanding regarding the purpose of the panel and what exactly the Straight and Gay Alliance presentation's focus is.
'The class covers issues pertaining to student safety and the overall climate of the school, so that's why this particular panel happens to be speaking,' Hebson said. 'It's part of a diversity unit. Others who speak are members of our minority report group—students of different races are on a panel as part of that club, and we also have students who have disabilities, physical and intellectual disabilities. So, the unit overall is a diversity unit.'
Hebson said that parents are upset that the students openly state their sexuality: 'They [ the parents ] believe that that's inappropriate, and they have the misperception that students on the panel are speaking about sexual issues, but they're not.'
The panel's purpose is to address the schools overlying message acceptance, tolerance and safety for all.
'In our view, in order for students to be academically successful, which is our primary objective, they need to feel safe at school,' Hebson said. 'To those who say, 'Why is this even a part of it? It doesn't have to be included; it's not your role,' we say it is our role, because we want students to achieve academically. In order to achieve academically, they have to be able to manage complex social issues appropriately.'
The class has been in place for many years, and the alliance's presentation was added to the diversity unit five years ago. Hebson believes that the panel has helped make students more aware of their word choices—for instance, rethinking the common phrase 'That's so gay' in conversation—as well as create a safer atmosphere for all students.
The school also has a program called First Class, which is also focused on always being respectful, knowing your audience and solving problems with direct communication.
Hebson said, 'We're not seeking to change someone's family values or religious beliefs through this type of panel.'
Parents do have the choice of opting their child out of any session they feel uncomfortable with, and Hebson said that the sessions are well-advertised to parents.
The school has no plans to change the program.