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Originally published Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 4:04 PM

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Rights group accuses Orange County school of condoning sexism, homophobia

The American Civil Liberties Union sued officials in an Orange County school district Wednesday, accusing them of allowing sexist and homophobic harassment and bullying at a high school that gained recent notoriety for canceling — then reinstating — a production of the musical "Rent."

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES —

The American Civil Liberties Union sued officials in an Orange County school district Wednesday, accusing them of allowing sexist and homophobic harassment and bullying at a high school that gained recent notoriety for canceling — then reinstating — a production of the musical "Rent."

The civil rights group's lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, centers on the treatment of a female student at Corona Del Mar High School who was allegedly threatened in a video featuring three other students that was posted on a fourth student's Facebook profile.

The male students in the video used homophobic and sexist language while discussing sexually assaulting and killing the female student, according to the lawsuit, which identifies the student only as Mary Doe.

The school and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District are accused in the lawsuit of not adequately responding to the video incident and of condoning sexist and homophobic behavior.

The suit names Mary Doe, her parents and a gay rights group as plaintiffs. Although much of the complaint is based on the school's alleged acceptance of homophobia, Mary Doe herself is not gay, said Hector Villagra, who directs the ACLU's Orange County office.

"The video is sort of the entry point to all this, but there is a mountain of evidence of homophobia on their campus that has gone completely unadressed," Villagra said.

The district said in a statement that officials were attempting to resolve the matter when they learned about the lawsuit. The district said the lawsuit had numerous factual errors and mistakes.

"These allegations are very serious and the district will utilize its best efforts to ascertain the truth of these matters, as well as to be sure there are procedures in place to allow prompt resolution of any and all disputes regarding discrimination and harassment," district Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said in the statement.

The lawsuit also mentioned the controversy over the school's planned production of "Rent: School Edition," a slightly toned-down version of the Pulitzer-prize winning Broadway show, as evidence of school officials' alleged hostility toward gay students.

Corona Del Mar drama teacher Ron Martin, who selected the musical, has said Principal Fal Asrani canceled the production in mid-February after she objected to homosexuality in the story line.

Asrani has countered that she stopped the production because she hadn't been given a chance to read over the script. The musical was reinstated later in the month after Martin gave Asrani a copy to review.

The lawsuit said that students have since been reprimanded for talking to reporters about the cancellation and that one student had a button confiscated that advertised the show.

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The lawsuit also accuses Asrani of not responding to Mary Doe's parents' concerns about the her safety and of assigning an assistant football coach to investigate the harassment, although the three of the four accused students are on the football team.

Only two of the students were disciplined, each with five days of suspension, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to Hubbard, the lawsuit names Asrani, an assistant principal and the school district as defendants.

It seeks unspecified damages and asks that the school be forced to take steps to redress the alleged homophobic atmosphere on campus.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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