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Originally published March 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 7, 2008 at 9:13 AM

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Parents question Day of Silence at Mount Si High

A group of parents in the Snoqualmie Valley doesn't want Mount Si High School to hold its annual Day of Silence in support of gay and lesbian...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

A group of parents in the Snoqualmie Valley doesn't want Mount Si High School to hold its annual Day of Silence in support of gay and lesbian students. The parents say they aren't anti-gay but are concerned about teachers expressing personal views on controversial subjects.

About 80 people filled a Snoqualmie Valley School Board meeting Thursday night to voice concerns over the national event that is meant to call attention to the silence in which many gay students say they must lead their lives. Students at an estimated 5,000 schools around the country observe the day in silence to show support for gays and lesbians and the discrimination they face, according to the Web site www.dayofsilence.org.

Mount Si Principal Randy Taylor told the board that the day of silence was consistent with the school's mission for students to reach their full potential and to respect individual differences.

"The Day of Silence sends a powerful message that all students have a right to be respected," he said.

But Mount Si junior Landon Wilson said he was slapped by another student during the Day of Silence two years ago for wearing a "straight pride" T-shirt. Last year, he said, he tried to stay neutral but was still criticized for not supporting the event.

"It's not a day when education takes place to the fullest extent," he said.

The School Board meeting was the latest in the continuing fallout from a Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly at Mount Si High School at which a prominent pastor with anti-gay views was invited to speak about his experiences in the civil-rights movement. One teacher booed the speaker, the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who leads the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. Another asked whether Hutcherson believed in equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Hutcherson called for the teachers to be fired. The school district disciplined them and apologized to Hutcherson and the community for their outbursts.

Since then, Hutcherson, whose daughter attends the high school, has also denounced the school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), calling it a "sex club," and urged parents and community members to oppose it and the Day of Silence.

Snoqualmie Valley parents who organized the group, Coalition to Defend Education (CoDE), said the assembly was just the latest in a string of incidents at the high school in which teachers injected their personal views into the classroom.

"School isn't intended to be a pulpit for anyone," Phillip Garding, vice president of CoDE, said before Thursday night's meeting.

Garding, who has four teenagers at Mount Si, said that when the Day of Silence was observed two years ago, some teachers did not speak, but spent their class period writing on the blackboard or showing movies. He said some students observing the event didn't respond when called on.

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Last year, he said, he kept his kids home rather than subject them to the "disruptive environment."

In an open letter to the school's GSA, Garding and five other CoDE board members said the day coerces support and encourages hostility.

"Neutral students can't opt out, and they can't say they don't like it," the board members wrote. "Please choose to not spread anger this year and do not request the Day of Silence during the school day."

Kit McCormick, the school's adviser to the Gay-Straight Alliance, said the club will go ahead with planning for the April 25 event. She said two years ago, one teacher did not talk, but that last year all of them taught their classes as usual. She also characterized as "ludicrous" the idea that students were forced to participate or be labeled "anti-gay."

"Last year I saw a totally successful day in which 230 students participated. That's about five times the number in the GSA," she said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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