Reaction to minister causes headaches for school-district officials
A Martin Luther King Jr. Day school assembly has opened a painful rift in the Snoqualmie Valley over religion, politics and sexuality. More than 150 people...
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
A Martin Luther King Jr. Day school assembly has opened a painful rift in the Snoqualmie Valley over religion, politics and sexuality.
More than 150 people packed the Snoqualmie Valley School Board meeting for more than three hours Thursday night to lay bare their opinions on religious tolerance, homosexuality and bullying in response to the Jan. 17 assembly at Snoqualmie's Mount Si High School.
The Rev. Ken Hutcherson, from Redmond's Antioch Bible Church, spoke at the assembly about growing up as an African American amid racial prejudice.
Though it wasn't part of his speech, Hutcherson is nationally known for advocating against homosexuality and gay marriage. Two English teachers made their disagreement with those views known at the assembly.
George Potratz booed Hutcherson and, after the speech, Kit McCormick stood up and asked Hutcherson whether he believed in equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Hutcherson didn't like the way he was treated, and the district has apologized to him, to Mount Si students and to parents.
Superintendent Joel Aune said the district would increase adult oversight of student assemblies, improve teacher training and create a task force to review how to teach controversial subjects.
But if Thursday's meeting was any indication, the apologies and plans haven't stemmed the tide of anger.
People on both sides Thursday chided district officials. One side said the school never should have invited Hutcherson to speak and that it failed to stand up for the two teachers who challenged him.
English teacher Susan Holihan said the past three weeks have been the "most disheartening" of her career. By not supporting the two teachers, the school district is isolating gay students, she said.
"The message you're sending ... is they should just keep their mouths shut," she said.
People on the other side of the debate, many of whom identified themselves as Christian, said Hutcherson wasn't the problem. The problem was the teachers who voiced their personal and political views at school.
High school should not be about political activity but about preparing students for their next step in life, said Mount Si parent Jon Pulsipher.
"We don't need this steady drumbeat of hostile and intolerant rhetoric" from teachers, he said. "When I go to work, I don't get to say my passions and emotions."
Mount Si junior Alex Olson tearfully said she was a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and that Hutcherson's appearance and other incidents made her "feel like a complete and utter joke."
When McCormick challenged Hutcherson after his speech, "I felt like a person again," Olson said.
One parent, who identified himself as Christian, complimented Olson for coming forward.
Other parents threatened to withdraw political support for the school district, which is going to voters with a bond issue next month. People also seemed polarized over the National Day of Silence, celebrated each year at Mount Si to draw attention to harassment and discrimination of gay students. This year's event is April 25.
There's been harassment — even death threats — against Christians, gay students and gay-rights supporters since the January assembly, speakers said.
The two teachers involved, Potratz and McCormick, were each given "letters of discipline" by the school administration Thursday. The letters will go in their personnel files, and both teachers said they would appeal the punishment.
After the public-comment session Thursday night, Superintendent Aune addressed the crowd to say the district would not take sides.
"I have concerns, in terms of what I'm hearing tonight, in regard to safety and respect" at the school, he said. "We heard it loud and clear.
"It's the welfare of all of the students that's going to be our primary focus."
Some community members at the meeting said the difficult discussion eventually could bring people closer together, even if the divisions are still deep.
"I even think this conversation could end up being great," said Cindy Sattler, a Snoqualmie Valley resident. "It's embarrassing right now, but it could be great."
Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567
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