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Debate Over Play Continues

More than a dozen people addressed the School Board about a play exploring homosexual issues.

The debate over whether Loudoun students should be prohibited from acting in or producing plays that explore homosexual issues took center stage again at the School Board meeting.

More than a dozen people gave their opinion Tuesday night, with the majority siding with First Amendment rights.

The School Board’s Legislative/Policy Committee plans to meet at 6:30 p.m., March 16, in the board conference room to draft a policy on dramatic productions. Committee chairman Mark Nuzzaco said Tuesday night that he would be considering the boundaries set by law. “We can’t change the law of Virginia or the United States,” he said. “We’re not a legislative body. Nor are we judges. We are an administrative body.”

CAROL WALTERS, an Ashburn parent, said students should have the right to be protected from the lifestyle issues portrayed in the Stone Bridge play, “Offsides,” which triggered the committee to develop a policy.

“I see this as one example of the many ways the young people are bombarded by … confusing attitudes about sexuality,” she said. “We need to make wiser choices. I support creation of a policy setting a standard for this purpose.”

Vincent Black, whose daughter was a crew member of the play, said his life mirrored that of the protagonist in the play. “Yes, I am gay,” he said. “Is it appropriate to discuss sexual orientation in high school? I believe it is.”

He said the play has elicited strong feelings both for and against homosexuality. “Gosh, I don’t envy you guys at this time. … I suggest the board consider striking a balance between these two viewpoints.”

Janell Kimzie, a parent of two teenagers, chose Loudoun County because of her research about the excellent school system. “I have some concern over the past few years about the things that are happening. ... My concerns are the issues of security, the issues of standards and morality is narrowing the kind of education our children can get.”

She favored an open exchange of ideas, saying she expects her children should be exposed to ideas that she does not support. She warned against a restrictive policy. “As an attorney, you will be walking into a mine field,” she warned. “I hope you will consider encouraging tolerance.”

Before moving to Loudoun, her family lived in Littleton, Colo., where two students opened fire on their classmates and teachers, killing many. With that scenario in mind, she warned the board could lose some kids by restricting the topics they can explore.

Suzanne DeSaix, who has two children in the school system, asked what kind of principal would allow a play exploring homosexuality. “I say a brave and wise one, a true educator,” she said. To restrict the students’ expression would be unethical.

Marilee Cummings, a parent of two Loudoun students, applauded the school district’s decision to discontinue the use of R-rated films in the school and freak dancing. She welcomed the dress code, and she objected to the play. “I’m afraid our experiment with tolerance has gotten our children into enough hot water,” she said.

Jonathan and David Weintraub, who described themselves as married gays, spoke in favor of the play. “This is the real world. Your job is to serve and respect all the real families in the county. … Members of the board must serve all families of the schools system.”

Nuzzaco took exception to the comments of Jonathan Weintraub, who advised the board to keep their personal views out of the equation. “I don’t think I was elected to check my own personal views at the door when I come in here,” he said.

Nuzzaco asked for prayers as the committee deliberates.

J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) said he does not believe the board will tread on the students’ freedom of expression by adopting a policy prohibiting school plays that explore homosexuality lifestyles.

Joe Guzman (Sugarland) said he objected to the play, but “I don’t hate anybody. I’m not attacking any group. … I would like for us to strive for a G-rated environment in our schools.”

Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said the teachers need guidance on what should be taught on the school, and the board is still waiting for legal advice. “This is not the place for social experimentation,” he added.

THE SCHOOL BOARD also discussed a problem with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Sugarland Elementary School in Sterling. Evan Mohler, assistant superintendent for Support Services, provided written details about four instances when Loudoun Fire and Rescue units were called to the school. On Nov. 9, 2004, they responded to the small of smoke and burnt electrical wires. The fan motor was overheating with burnt windings and associated melted insulation. On Jan. 24, a faulty electrical cable between the school and a Head Start trailer activated a false fire alarm. Four days later, smoke came from the ventilator due to a loose connection generating heat and overheating wires of the heating contractor. On Feb. 22, a burning smell reported was generated by overheating in the fan motor.

“The HVAC system at the Sugarland Elementary School is 30 years old and has exceeded its design life expectancy,” he wrote. “The bottom line is the system … needs to be replaced.”

Mohler reported to the board that it would cost $4.5 million to upgrade the HVAC and electrical systems at the Sugarland Elementary School. The systems are badly in need of repair, he said.

As a temporary fix, school officials could replace the unit ventilators and heaters which would cost $350,000 to $400,000, he said. Either way, it would be difficult to replace them by the start of the 2005-2006 school year.

Guzman asked the board to adopt a remedy, such as replacing the ventilators and heaters before the planned $15.5 million renovation project.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

* Dr. Bitar, president of the Mid-Atlantic division of Energy Education Inc., presented chairman John Andrews with the Loudoun Energy Lighthouse Award in recognition of its environmental conservation measures that resulted in $14.5 million in savings since 1992. Energy Education focuses on the use of professionals rather than equipment to provide recommendations on reducing consumption and lowering the cost of utilities so that more of the budget can be directed toward instruction.

* Kay T. Sellers has been named assistant principal at the Belmont Ridge Middle School and Robert L. Marple become assistant principal at Park View High School. They gave a standing ovation to Anne Brooks, who has announced her retirement.

* Larry Schonberger told the board that his son was ridiculed publicly by a teacher after a minor motor vehicle accident and sought an apology. Sarah Smith, saying she was speaking as a teacher rather than a school board member, offered an apology.

* Chris Hatch, representing the Loudoun County Farm Bureau, offered six $500 scholarships for any senior who is planning to continue education in agricultural field. More www.vafb.com/loudoun/loudoun.asp

* Ohneiser recommended asking Bill Gates to enter into a partnership with the school system to create a computer/internet academy.