9/12/02 philately And Thespians
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Washington 2006
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Reprimand Sought Against Teacher for Offensive Words
By Dover Smeed Satire
September 12, 2002

( - Gay rights groups are calling for disciplinary action against a Michigan middle school teacher who included offensive words in a seventh grade spelling test.

The controversy erupted Tuesday when the parent of a student in teacher Lorna Fossum's English class at Rittmueller Middle School in Frankenmuth, Mich., complained about the words 'query' and 'fagot' being included in a weekly spelling test.

"There's no reason for our children to be exposed to words that insinuate hate," said Lance Marcus, whose son Bart brought home the weekly spelling test with the offending words, alerting Marcus and his domestic partner, Omar Freed, to the inclusion of the words on the test.

"With all the hate in the world today, the last thing we need is for children to be constantly bombarded with disparaging messages like this," said Freed, who was upset because the words sound similar to epithets used against gays.

The word 'query' means to question and 'fagot' refers to a bundle of sticks or wrought iron.

Marcus and Freed made their concerns known to the local Frankenmuth Rainbow Justice Alliance chapter and the Michigan Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Action League, which lodged a complaint on behalf of Marcus and Freed.

Claude Wolver, a spokesman for the MGLBTRAL said the group "is seeking redress at the local level, starting with immediately disciplining and punishment of the offending instructor and remedial sensitivity training," for Fossum.

Fossum did not respond to numerous telephone calls seeking comment, but Frankenmuth School District spokeswoman Elaine French said officials were "investigating the circumstances," and "considering a course of action."

"We're dedicated to diversity in Frankenmuth and we want to make absolutely sure our students receive the proper education to advance that mission," French said.

When asked what form of discipline might be imposed on Fossum, French said the options range from "a simple letter and compulsory sensitivity programming," to dismissal.

The complaint in Frankenmuth parallels the case of a North Carolina elementary teacher who was reprimanded for teaching the word 'niggardly' to her fourth-grade class.

In that case, parent Akwana Walker complained to Hanover County school officials, saying the word offended her because it sounds like a racial slur. The word 'niggardly' means stingy or miserly.

Teacher Stephanie Bell was disciplined and sent letters of apology to the parents of her students, promising to not use the word again.

The complaint about hate speech being included on spelling tests in Frankenmuth has prompted other parents to examine additional offensive words that might make their way into the school curriculum.

Ralph Zallow, president of the Greater Saginaw Council for Families, Children and Morality, said additional words might also be harmful to children, and is asking his group's members to examine the words 'masticate,' 'philatelist,' 'expectorate' and 'thespian.'

"We're trying to bring up our kids with a sense of decency and we sure don't want the public schools indoctrinating these precious youngsters to become thespians or to practice philately," said Zallow.

Even though philately describes stamp collecting and thespians refers to actors, Zallow said the words "just sound too much like something immoral."

"If you're a parent trying to raise an adolescent boy, you've got enough problems without having to worry about your teenager experimenting with mastication and expectorating," he warned.

According to Zallow, the confusion of adolescents is only compounded by words like masticate, which means to chew; and expectorate, which means to eject from the throat or lungs.

While Frankenmuth parents are increasingly concerned about specific words being taught to their children, Rittmueller Middle School students were less worried.

"This is just so totally bogus," said Franklin Cairnes, an eighth grader at Rittmueller. "It's like, duh, they're just words and stuff."

Melissa Makala, a seventh grader who is not in Fossum's English class, shared Cairnes' perspective. "This is such a major gag fest," said Makala. "It is, like, just so gay."

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