ALAMEDA — School district leaders have approved lesson plans for kindergartners through fifth graders that aim to curb anti-gay bullying.
Trustees voted 3-2 on Tuesday to adopt the Safe Schools curriculum, which supporters say will help children of gay parents feel welcome at school and help end anti-gay teasing and bullying on the playground.
The lessons also aim to provide a safe environment for children to learn, as well as to offer a framework for teachers to break down stereotypes and teach kids about different types of families.
"The need for this is real," said Beth Kromer, a fourth-grade teacher at Ruby Bridges Elementary School.
Brian Harris, a 16-year-old student at the Alameda Community Learning Center, told trustees that he has been called anti-gay epithets on campus.
"I have been harassed by other students in the classroom and I have even begun to consider just stopping and giving up on life," Harris said.
Opponents of the curriculum said it would undercut parents' rights to teach their children about relationships and sexual orientation, and that it pushed a political agenda without addressing ways to help other groups who may be singled out at school.
Trustee Trish Spencer, who voted no, said she was concerned that lessons about other vulnerable students were not on the table.
But Superintendent Kristen Vital said the district will be developing a guide to help teachers deal with other types of bullying — such as racism or mocking someone's religious beliefs — over the next few weeks.
The entire curriculum tehn will be reviewed, Vital said.
"We need to start somewhere," said Trustee Niel Tam, who voted yes.
Tam noted that the district spent two years developing the lesson plans on gay families.
Board President Mike McMahon voted no.
He urged trustees to adopt a temporary policy that would allow parents to opt out their children from the lessons until the district staff can complete their review of the curriculum.
The vote Tuesday followed two public hearings that saw about 150 people address the board.
The district also received about 1,500 e-mails from Alameda residents on the issue, which Trustee Tracy Jensen described as the most divisive she has experienced during her seven years on the board.
The e-mails were about evenly split between curriculum supporters and opponents.
Among those who backed the lesson plans was the Alameda Education Association, the union which represents Alameda teachers, and the city's Social Service Human Relations Board.
Opponents included the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit that campaigns for religious and parental rights.
Reach Peter Hegarty at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-748-1654.