Our requests to NUSD Board about "That's A Family" 
Letter and Attachment of January 14, 2003


January 14, 2003

Novato Unified School District (NUSD)
1015 Seventh St. Novato, CA 94945

Dear NUSD Board Members, Dr. Bernard & Dr. Derby:

This letter concerns the pilot of "That's A Family." No doubt, all interested and affected parents and families were not able to attend the Jan. 9th parent presentation. Also, we do not believe the brief narrative summary, which the board decided upon during the December 17 board meeting, will convey enough information to those who could not attend.

Therefore, we request that NUSD send all 5th Grade parents the "Handout" pages from the "That's A Family" Guidebook. Those handouts contain a verbatim transcript of the key parts of the video, and as such, will be very helpful to all 5th Grade families.

We also request that a separate "opt in" form be sent to all 5th Grade parents instead of the usual "opt out" form. The "opt in" form can be modeled after the permission slip used by Novato High School to "opt in" freshmen for the Unity in Diversity Day, held on November 19, 2002.

In a nutshell, we believe that "That's A Family:" contains some material that may be offensive on racial grounds; may raise some personal or emotional issues that might not be well-suited for a classroom setting; contains some material not consistent with abstinence outside of marriage; and includes some content that is not age-appropriate and/or not helpful to, or respectful of, our role as parents. We have also attached a one-page information sheet outlining those key concerns about "That's A Family." It could be used instead of, or in addition to, the Handout pages.

For the record, we do appreciate the NUSD Board's decision to limit the pilot test of "That's A Family" to the 5th Grade Family Life Classes. However, we believe --- as supported by a significant number of Novatoans and as explained in our August 2002 public comments --- that "That's A Family" is not consistent with the common ground and broad appeal of our stated purpose: 

"keeping academic excellence paramount by helping ensure a safe and respectful school environment for all. As such, we of course support diversity awareness and only ask it be age-appropriate and respectful of our role as parents. In short, we are here first and foremost for our children." Quoted from our web site.

In addition, here are some examples of questions that will continue to arise in the weeks and months ahead: 

  • Should my 5th grade child view this material?  Will the entire video be shown?  How much of the guidebook material/exercises will be used?  How much classroom time/homework time will be involved? Is this the best use of the available time?  What will those who do not "opt in" or "opt out" be doing during that class time?  Will there be a "stigma" from "opting in" or from "opting out"? 
  • How will the pilot test be measured? What current information/data describes a problem that "That's A Family" is intended to address and what information/data will show it did or did not impact that problem? 
  • What role will parents who want to provide feedback play in the evaluation? 
  • What information will the NUSD Board use after the pilot test ends for its subsequent vote on whether or not to adopt "That's A Family"?

NPFC has offered and will continue to offer to meet with any Novatoans who would like to discuss any of these matters. See our Principles for Public Dialogue of August 20, 2002 on our web site. A copy of this letter will also be posted to our web site --- www.NovatoParents.org.

Thank you for your time and consideration. You can contact us as noted above.

Sincerely and on behalf of NPFC,

Abby Wong
Novato Parent 
Elizabeth Hanlein
Former Novato
Teacher
Pam McCart
RN, Former Family Life Teacher
Kate Hoj
5th Grade Parent
Lybe Crumpton
5th Grade Teacher

Original, incl. attachment, to all addressees


Attachment to NPFC's Letter of January 14, 2003 to NUSD Board

Information Sheet Outlining Key Concerns about "That's A Family"

It contains material some have found or may find objectionable for one or more reasons. For example:

  • racial grounds
  • unnecessarily raising emotional or personal issues not well suited for a classroom setting
  • not consistent with abstinence outside of marriage
  • not age-appropriate
  • not respectful of our role as parents

Here is an overview of some things which many have found or may find objectionable:

  1. The Adoption Scenario states: "When you are adopted, your parents keep you their whole life. They don't rent you." (emphasis added; see Guidebook Handout page 27).
  2. The Grandparent/Guardian Scenario features an African-American family involved with drug use (see Guidebook Handout page 31); and Guidebook page 30 suggests a possible student activity to pretend you are the child and write a letter to your parent.
  3. The Gay/Lesbian Scenario includes these quotes (see Guidebook Handout page 35):
    • "The way we became a family is our two mothers were friends and they decided they wanted to be more than friends. So they got into a relationship with each other and they started to fall in love. After that, they asked a man to be the father of their baby ..."
    • "Some people think that you're going to be gay when you grow up because you have gay parents, but I don't think that's true because you could be, but not everybody is gay when they grow up just because you have gay parents."
  4. The Separation/Divorce Scenario states (see Guidebook Handbook page 38):
    • "They feel happier now because they're not seeing each other any more and they are like, 'Now we won't have to fight any more'."
    • "The hard part is when I'm with my dad, I always want to be with my mom. And when I am with my mom, I always want to be with my dad."
  5.  The Single-Parent Scenario features a Hispanic family and includes these comments (see Guidebook Handout page 41):
    • "When you just have one parent, if you get into trouble, only one person gets mad at you and only one person nags at you. So I think I'm pretty lucky!"
    • "And sometimes, people like my mom just decide to have a baby even though they aren't living with the other parent."
  6. There are no scenarios devoted to a traditional family.

It creates needless controversy ... there can be no dispute that this video and guidebook are controversial. So, one key question has to be, is this controversy unavoidable and in the best interests of our children's academic education? We believe it is neither unavoidable nor in the best interests of our children. There are many, non-controversial and age-appropriate materials to help teach respect for all. Therefore, everyone's time and energy would be better spent on specifically and precisely documenting and defining what, if any, additional materials and classroom time are needed to address what, if any, specific, precise, and additional problems within NUSD. See the Novato Parents & Family Coalition (NPFC) August 2002 petition, our Principles for Public Dialogue, and our public comments at the Aug. 20 meeting at our web site ... www.NovatoParents.org. You may contact us via npfc@NovatoParents.org.