First reported 1/15/2010 4:03 p.m.

Beye Elementary School parents were feeling under attack Friday from a post that morning on the Web site of a statewide conservative group which calls itself “pro-family.”

Illinois Family Institute, a group based in Carol Stream, took Beye to task for having several months ago hosted a talk by Shannon Sullivan, the director of Illinois Safe Schools Network, an organization that supports gay students and same-sex couples who are parents.

“‘Diversity’ simply means difference. There is nothing inherently positive about ‘diversity.’ ‘Family Diversity’ is a term that obscures the politically incorrect truth that not all family structures are worthy of appreciation or respect. Some differences are good, some differences are bad, and some are neutral.

“The forms of diversity of which Ms. Sullivan is enamored are, in the view of many people, profoundly wrong; and public schools have no right to use school hours, school resources, and public money to affirm Ms. Sullivan’s unproven, divisive theories to children.”

That statement was written by Laurie Higgins, director of school advocacy for Illinois Family Institute. Higgins told Wednesday Journal on Friday that her group opposes introducing children in elementary school to talk of homosexuality or any sexual behavior practices. The letter encourages parents to call the school to voice their opposition.

Parents at Beye, the Oak Park elementary school at 230 N. Cuyler, are rounding up support in anticipation of such opposition.

An e-mail that went out to a group of Beye parents Friday morning responding to the statement read:

“This attack comes as a result of our efforts to be a welcoming school for kids of LGBT families…We need people to show up who can talk about the importance of inclusion and diversity in our community, and address the hatefulness so evident … So again, please come, and be ready to speak up about the community that you value. And please share this information with others.”

The e-mail also raised the possibility that Tuesday night’s PTO meeting might be targeted by this group. Higgins, however, said there are no plans to protest at the meeting. Wednesday Journal goes to press early Tuesday afternoon. If there was a protest, you’ll find a report on our Web site, www.wednesdayjournalonline.com.

The nonprofit Illinois Family Institute has been around since 1992. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, had the organization listed as a hate group until July. It was so named because it cited in one of its articles psychologist and sex researcher Paul Cameron. The law center’s blog, Hatewatch, states that much of Cameron’s research into homosexually and lesbianism has been largely discredited.

The Illinois Family Institute was removed from the law center’s list after it agreed to take down the article referencing Cameron. Higgins maintains that her organization is often mislabeled a hate group because of its position against gays.

“That’s what happens when you speak out on this issue,” she said. “There are groups that espouse ignorance and hate, but to equate my position with them is hateful.”

Speaking to Wednesday Journal on Friday, Beye PTO co-chair Michelle Brandt would not comment specifically about this group, saying only that much of what Higgins wrote was based on misinformation and that it was not correct.

Sullivan, the gay rights speaker, was invited to give a presentation as part of Beye’s PTO meeting on Tuesday. Brandt said PTO meetings are attended by parents but not by children. She said that there initially was misinformation among some parents about Sullivan’s presentation. “Once it got clarified,” Brandt said, “there was understanding and acceptance.”

District 97 released a statement late Friday afternoon in response to Higgins’ letter.

“Oak Park is a multicultural community and, as such, it is important to respond to the diversity of its citizens,” said Supt. Constance Collins, in the statement. “District 97 has a responsibility to ensure that it provides our staff and parents/guardians with access to the information and resources necessary to help them effectively serve our students.

“With this in mind, the district supports the decision by Beye School to honor the unique fabric of Oak Park, and applauds its efforts to create a safe, secure, respectful environment for students, staff and families.”

Principal Jonathan Ellwanger sent out an e-mail early Friday to correct what he called misinformation about Sullivan’s visit to the school in August.

Sullivan, according to Ellwanger, “presented a comprehensive professional development plan aimed at helping our teachers increase their comfort, awareness, sensitivity and skill at dealing with issues such as family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying.

“That professional development,” he adds, “has been for faculty only. No students have ever been a part of these sessions.”

Ellwanger stressed that creating a welcoming school for all groups is a goal of Beye’s School Improvement Team.

“Our use of the words ‘welcoming school’ reflects who we want to be as a school community. We want Beye School to be a place where every student, parent and staff member feels safe, respected and welcome.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

School district responds to attack on Beye School

“Oak Park is a multicultural community and, as such, it is important to respond to the diversity of its citizens,” Constance Collins, superintendent of Oak Park Elementary School District 97, said this afternoon.

“District 97 has a responsibility to ensure that it provides our staff and parents/guardians with access to the information and resources necessary to help them effectively serve our students.

“With this in mind, the district supports the decision by Beye School to honor the unique fabric of Oak Park, and applauds its efforts to create a safe, secure, respectful environment for students, staff and families.”

-District 97 statement

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