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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why Poland Springs?

Sorry. It had to be said. If our U.S. Senator had to take an opportunity at the national stage and use it turn himself into a meme, couldn't he at least have grabbed some Zephyrhills?

Too many bottled water companies call Florida home to evade getting called out on this one Marco Rubio!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lake County's Bigoted History

I should have learned a long time ago that it never was good for Lake County to make national headlines. The possibility the school district may ban all school clubs to make sure a pro-gay club isn't allowed to operate at Carver Middle School leaves me hiding me head in shame once again.

I'm not sure where to start on the bad publicity surrounding this, but a good place is probably the sad history of the Lake County schools' brushes with national attention. I was in high school when the America First controversy garnered attention from across the nation. Those who did not grow up in Lake County can read that link to the New York Times (that's the New York FRIGGIN' Times) for background. The short version is that the School Board, after seeing the Christian Coalition get three members elected on the five-member board, voted to require history classes teach that America was morally superior to all other cultures in the world. It is hard to believe this whole episode happened in the early 1990s.

As someone who lived in the county at that time, I cannot overstate the extraordinary embarrassment foisted upon everybody living there by this utter nonsense. This should not be forgotten by School Board members considering taking a stand firmly on the side of homophobia in a world changing faster that street-front of 441.

As that Times article notes, a political solution was eventually found to the problem with the political ouster of these School Board members, in a Republican primary no less.

But something left unexplored in this article is the long list of specific embarrassments we suffered thanks to this crew. I myself testified in front of a School Board committee at one point because the district, which at the time beamed Channel 1 into classrooms each morning, was planning to censor a report on AIDS which discussed condoms. Because I attended hearings in Tavares, I was one of the only students in the district to see the full report—it did get censored—but I still cannot fathom the logic that mentioning sex in front of teenagers in the context of a terrible and fatal disease was going to be arousing, but going to school uneducated about the dangers of unsafe sex would keep youngsters on the path of the righteous.

If only this was the darkest part of history for education in Lake County. No, that distinction belongs to the entire 28-year reign of Sheriff Willis McCall.

The wickedness of McCall's time as a "law and order man" in Lake County could fill books, but his most notorious interaction with the learning of children likely came in 1954, when the sheriff ejected five Croation children out of a Mount Dora school because they appeared colored. This happened the same year that the Supreme Court declared desegregation illegal in the famous and surely-known-even-in-Lake-County verdict for Brown v. Board of Education. Yet in a public hearing, McCall said the children weren't allowed in white schools, even pointing directly at a 13-year-old girl and declaring he didn't "like the shape of that one's nose."

Right now, school officials in Lake County are concerned the actions of the School Board today will make the county appear out of step with the rest of America. Unfortunately, such action would be par for the course.

In an interesting historic twist, Lake County's Chistian Coalition majority was booted from office by voters the same year Willis McCall died. I naively hoped at a younger age that the county's days of discrimination and its philosophy of supremacy was sent to the hells of history in 1994. Sadly, that does not appear to be so.

It is important to note that a Gay-Straight Alliance, as students at Carver Middle School wish to start today, is devoted to promoting tolerance, not to recruiting homosexuals. It does not seek to "make" kids gay. Likewise, any fears one might have that sexual experimentation was going on within a middle school should want groups like this to be sanctioned and sponsored by professional faculty. That's the way to ensure student's conflict about their personal identity are dealt with in an appropriate setting, not through putting themselves in private, potentially predatory situations.

The issue of fairness should also be considered. The School Board never batted an eye about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (nor should it have). It also hasn't ever stopped clubs with no academic purpose whatsoever to form. At one point, Leesburg High School had a Dungeons and Dragons club.

But I hope above all that the School Board, the next time it meets, considers how their decision on this matter will be viewed in 20 or 60 years. Despite his political popularity at the time, the actions of Willis McCall are viewed universally as monstrous bigotry today. Lake County already looks behind the time on tolerance by entertaining a ban on student groups. If such a ruling is truly put into place now, will the decision in the future be viewed any differently than the actions of McCall?

My genuine fear is that history will see this ban as a continuation of hateful policies. After a few decades pass, there will be visible a clear line from banning Croatians to boasting superiority to banning gays. In every case, brave voices always stood up and said these policies were wrong. Will the Lake County School Board stand with the brave or the bigoted?