Moratorium on Al Gore film sparks own controversy
A philosophical fist fight has broken out in the Federal Way School District days after the School Board put all classroom showings of the...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A philosophical fist fight has broken out in the Federal Way School District days after the School Board put all classroom showings of the global warming movie "An Inconvenient Truth" on hold.
There is no discussion of banning the movie. But ban or no ban, word of the board's decision last week to impose a "moratorium" on it made national news.
E-mails subsequently arrived by the hundreds, most in opposition to the board's decision. By Sunday, Board President Ed Barney said he had read 275, with about 300 more to go.
"Most are from nowhere even near here," Barney said. "A majority of them think we're out of our minds."
In interviews, board members, district officials, and even some parents who originally complained about the film said there seemed to be misunderstandings in the community, and across the country, about what had been asked of the board, and what they had done.
Board members said the controversy began after a district newsletter noted that teachers could obtain free copies of the film for classroom use. Several parents objected to this, and at least one raised a concern about an upcoming showing of the film at Lakota Middle School, questioning whether the seventh-grade science teacher there would present alternative view points.
"An Inconvenient Truth" features former Vice President Al Gore discussing the science behind the theory that global warming is caused by humans. Some parents objected to the film for political or religious reasons.
At its meeting last week, the board suspended all classroom viewings until district Superintendent Tom Murphy could confirm that the district's existing policies on materials that contain "bias" were being followed.
"It's a very reasonable request," said Murphy, who will report to the board at its Jan. 23 meeting.
Two district policies apply in this case. The first requires that teachers get approval from their principals before they show any movie in class.
The second states that, "when it is necessary to use historical or literary works, periodicals, and technical journals which show bias, staff members have a responsibility to point out the biases, and present additional information and perspectives to balance those biases."
District policy also allows parents to opt their children out of any lesson they find objectionable.
By late last week, Murphy had learned that the movie and bias policies were followed earlier at Todd Beamer High School, where a teacher showed the film during a speech and debate class, requiring students to research other perspectives.
But policy was not followed at Lakota. Murphy said the science teacher had not gotten prior approval to show the film. Frosty E. Hardison, a parent at Lakota who complained to the board, said he believes the Bible predicted global warming. But he also said he was not seeking a ban on the film — only a healthy classroom debate of different scientific views, like the theory that global warming is a naturally occurring phenomenon.
"Present me with a whole broad spectrum of facts, not just a select, focused view," he said.
Since his views appeared in media reports and Internet blogs, Hardison said he has received a flood of phone calls at home from supporters and critics alike.
Some critics were constructive, he said, inviting him to debate the science. Others called only to yell "stupid" or "idiot," then hang up.
"They think we're just these religious fanatics who just want to stick our heads in the sand," he said.
On the other side of the debate, Chris Carrel, another parent at Lakota, said he could not believe the board had even classified the film as having a bias. He said the science clearly points to global warming as a phenomenon caused by humans.
The board bowed too quickly to a few loud voices of opposition, he said, without giving the larger community the chance to respond.
"When we have thousands of the world's foremost scientists telling us that our kids are going to be living in an unprecedented global warming, then I think they should know the basics of it," said Carrel, executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos, a group dedicated to preserving the Hylebos Creek watershed in Federal Way.
In the spirit of educating the School Board, and perhaps the larger community, Carrel said he is planning a scientific slide show about global warming sometime within the next two weeks. It would be the same slide show Gore used to tour around the country, he said.
Board member Dave Larson said he was encouraged by the prospect of a community debate and by an offer from another citizen to help science teachers research alternative views on global warming.
But he was also disappointed that, with all the progress the Federal Way school district has made on closing the achievement gap, and other important matters, there was this "feeding frenzy" about a board decision many people did not seem to understand.
"The frustrating part is that good news doesn't make it out there, and this does," he said.
Murphy said he could recall only one other incident in recent years when parents raised concerns about controversial content in the curriculum. That concern was about "graphic" novels.
The board stood behind its policies at the time, he said, urging concerned parents to opt their children out of the class, or use the teacher's alternative assignments.
Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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