OPRF "heterosexual quiz" rankles dad, OPALGA, too

Parents of girl call questionnaire inappropriate and an invasion of privacy. School acknowledges concerns, defends intentions.

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By BILL DWYER

A questionnaire passed out to some Oak Park and River Forest High School students with the intention of raising awareness of gay, bisexual and transgendered teen issues has raised protest from at least one OPRF parent, who has found support from the co-chair of the Oak Park Area Gay and Lesbian Association.

The "Heterosexual Quiz," an 11-question reverse play on the sort of questions many gay teens routinely face, was passed out to students in a foreign language class as part of the school's "Day of Silence" four weeks ago. Since its inception 10 years ago, The Day of Silence has supported gay students in their struggle with bias and discrimination, and to help foster a more positive and safe environment for all students.

One OPRF father, however, said recently the quiz and the Day of Silence itself had the effect of subjecting his daughter to the very sort of discrimination the day sought to spotlight.

The father had several concerns about the overall intent of the day, but said he was most concerned both with what he termed an invasion of his daughter's privacy and inappropriate inquiries into the sexual practices of a 14-year-old.

One question he particularly objected to was "Have you ever been physically intimate with someone of the same sex? If not, how do you know that you're gay?"

"If I was to say these things to a 14 year old girl in a park, I'd be arrested," the father said. "I think this thing about advocacy has gone way too far."

OPALGA co-chair Ethel Cotovsky echoed the girl's father's concerns after she heard of the quiz Monday. Saying the quiz was "a terrible way to treat a child," Cotovsky said the father "absolutely has a legitimate argument" about the use of the quiz in a classroom.

"[OPLAGA] would be, absolutely  opposed to this ... interrogation, this kind of invasion of privacy."

Calling the approach "rapacious," Cotovsky added, "This kind of use of irony is something we would absolutely condemn if used in the opposite way [against gays]."

OPRF Superintendent for Curriculum Phil Prale said last Tuesday that while he still supports the goals and intentions of the Day of Silence, he understands the concerns of the father.

"I think it would be fair to say that this was an activity that needed better planning and better preparation," said Prale, especially the need to discuss which classroom settings are appropriate for discussing such issues as sexuality, and which are not.

"The use of that quiz in a [foreign language] class was not appropriate," he said. "Day of Silence activities are not in any way intended to alter or diminish our curriculum." Other classes, such as psychology or sociology, would be more appropriate, said Prale.

Cotovsky, though, said the correct approach to dealing with what she termed "very sensitive issues" was to answer teen's questions with a combination of carefully selected written material and "the role modeling of intelligent human beings."

The student's father also raised the issue of inherent coercion that can arise when teachers advocate, or appear to advocate, a specific position on an issue.

"As a student, for you to get along in that class, you assume you need to agree with [teachers]," the father said. The father noted that while his daughter and others were supposedly allowed to opt out of the Day of Silence, she in fact experienced discrimination from other students when she didn't take part in the program.

The girl's parents recently met with Prale and other administration officials, along with the girl's language teacher, to discuss their concerns. The father said Tuesday that he believed Prale and the others heard his concerns, but didn't feel they offered much in the way of concrete changes.

Prale said he and other OPRF staff have and would continue to discuss the issue at length, and were open to a continuing dialogue with the father and any others who expressed concerns.

"We need to have a discussion around what is the best way to structure these activities," he said. "It shouldn't diminish any student."

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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