New Jersey's preeminent gay rights group came to the defense yesterday of Evesham's school district, which is facing questions from some parents for showing a diversity video that includes families headed by same-sex couples.
The video, called "That's a Family!," depicts children being raised in a variety of family structures, including those headed by divorced and single parents, grandparents, guardians, and gay and lesbian couples.
The video is used around the state, and the New Jersey Department of Education provides training on incorporating "That's a Family!" into the classroom.
Evesham elementary schools began showing the video this year to third graders as part of their health curriculum.
But the video drew complaints from some parents who objected to the portion showing same-sex parents, saying the school district didn't tell parents about "That's a Family!" beforehand.
NBC-10 aired a report on the video Monday, after receiving an e-mail from one parent, who asked not to be identified.
That report - and the reaction from the gay-rights group Garden State Equality - has made the school district a temporary front in the culture wars.
Garden State Equality issued an e-mail "action alert" yesterday, encouraging its members to support the school district.
"We take this seriously," said Steve Goldstein, the group's chair. "For us in the gay community, prejudice perpetuates into future generations unless the current generation . . . is taught about diversity."
He called on Garden State Equality members to attend the next Evesham school board meeting on Feb. 13.
Jeanne Smith, the Evesham school district's public information officer, said the school district sent out a letter to parents at the beginning of the school year explaining the curriculum. The letter said a video would be used, but did not discuss or explain the content of "That's a Family!"
"I don't think any of us expected we'd have to defend it," she said.
The half-hour video, produced by Women's Education Media, comes with a discussion and teaching guide. It was screened at the White House in 2000.
The state Department of Education does not require schools to use the video, but provides training for those that want to teach it to students.
Jon Zlock, a spokesman for the department, did not have statistics yesterday on how many school districts use "That's a Family!" But he said the state's health education standards require second-grade students to be able to "identify different kinds of families and explain that families may differ for many reasons."
"In essence, that's what this tape does," he said. "In a state as diverse as New Jersey, it's important for students to learn how diverse a family can be."
Smith said she received four e-mails and phone calls from parents yesterday, questioning whether third graders were old enough for the material in the video. Evesham's superintendent received a handful of complaints as well, Smith said.
Prior to the NBC-10 story, she said, no parents had complained to the superintendent's office.
Smith said she planned to explain to the parents who raised concerns that third graders are well aware of the diversity in their communities. She said the video also addresses worries over bullying in schools.
"The whole diversity thing goes along with that, trying to teach children that people come from all kinds of families and they deserve respect and dignity, as you do," she said. "We don't believe there's an age limit for when you teach that concept."