Responses of Peggy Cooper Cafritz to GLAA 2002 Questionnaire
for DC Board of Education Candidates
1. Do you recognize the right of our public school students to organize clubs to promote lesbian and gay civil rights, to combat homophobic violence and prejudice, and to provide socializing opportunities for lesbian and gay youth?
Yes, I support the rights of D.C. Public School (DCPS) students to organize such organizations. Such extracurricular organizations would enhance the educational experience for not only for the GLBT students but also for the other students and the school staff as well. Extracurricular organizations must have faculty advisors or community advisors approved by the principals. Hopefully, staff and board members of SMYAL, Youth Pride, GLSEN, P-FLAG, GLOV, GLAA and Metro Teen AIDS would volunteer to act as advisors since these organizations have been in the vanguard of advocacy for GLBT youth.
2. Do you recognize the right of students to bring dates of the same sex to school proms and other official public school social functions?
If the parents or guardians of students approve of their bringing same sex dates to proms or other official DCPS social functions, then I feel that the schools must honor that and make all the necessary arrangements so that these students will be in a safe and respectful environment.
3. Will you oppose efforts to restrict or censor books or other materials in our public school libraries that discuss homosexuality in a positive and supportive manner?
Yes, I am opposed to such censorship. The materials, however must be age appropriate. The informational materials of SMYAL and P-FLAG should be available. My overarching concern is that the public school libraries are woefully inadequate for our students. Because of the scarcity of funds, DCPS would be dependant on the largesse of the GLBT community and organizations to donate the appropriate materials for the school libraries. Board of Education members should read these and other materials in order to keep abreast of the needs of gay students.
4. Do you support the efforts of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to provide gay positive books to DCPS school libraries?
Yes. Also, the P-FLAG materials should be made available to every teacher, counselor, and administrator in DCPS at their annual orientation meetings and all relevant subsequent meetings.
5. Do you favor training programs for professional development of teachers, counselors, and other school system staff, such as those offered by the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), to help these professionals to nurture positive identity formation for lesbian and gay students?
Definitely yes. In addition to the training programs, the Superintendent should invite groups serving GLBT youth to one of the meetings of all of the principals and administrators. It would be tremendously helpful to have Caitlin Ryan, a D.C. resident, to discuss her book Lesbian & Gay Youth with the DCPS staff.
6. From time to time, D.C. public school teachers have invited openly gay men and women to speak in their classes and to answer students' questions about homosexuality. Do you support the right of our teachers to continue inviting such speakers?
Yes, the teachers should have the right to invite such speakers depending on the subject matter of the class and the age-appropriateness of the material. These speakers should not only be limited to classrooms but in cases where appropriate should include school assemblies.
7. Do you support the condom availability program established in 1992, and operated by the Department of Health, in our public schools?
Yes, I support the condom availability program for female as well as male. Also, since this program has been in existence for 10 years, it is time to have an assessment as to the efficacy of the program - not for the purpose of discontinuing it but making it more effective. DCPS should join with the Department of Health, HIV/AIDS groups and other relevant community organizations to sponsor the assessment.
8. The DC Department of Health recently received a federal grant of $750,000 to fund abstinence only education programs which will teach that condoms are unreliable and should not be used as barriers to disease or as birth control. Will you work to create a comprehensive sex education program in the DC Public Schools that promotes the use of birth control and especially condoms as an effective means of preventing disease and pregnancy?
For the purpose of battling teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, we should use everything in our arsenal from abstinence to condom availability. We should rely on the best research that is based on facts and give consideration to the values that are being taught in the homes of our students. In formulating a sex education program we must have access to the latest research.
9. Will you work to create a comprehensive sex education program in the DC Public Schools that teaches homosexuality is part of the normal range of human sexuality?
Yes. In order to create such a comprehensive program in DCPS, we will need our experts and friends in the GLBT community to help develop and implement the program. When I co-founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA), I constantly preached the importance of helping adolescents through their sexual development - particularly when they are in a questioning posture. We must first foster a protective environment during this questioning period and provide competent and compassionate counseling. During the early developmental stages of DESA, I tried to initiate a joint venture with the Whitman-Walker to develop such a program but it was never funded. Also, it is important that GLBT organizations interface the D.C. Congress of PTA's to gain support for such a program. To that end, Gays and Lesbians need to join and become active with the PTA's. One does not have to be a parent or a teacher to be concerned about public education. This is clearly shown by the questions posed by GLAA in this questionnaire.
10. The DC Human Rights Act prohibits the District from conferring any "benefit" or "advantage" to any group not fully in compliance with the DC Human Rights Act. Currently DCPS provides recruiting opportunities, school programs, and direct sponsorship of scout troops despite the finding of the DC Human Rights Commission that the Boy Scouts' discriminatory policy against gay people is illegal. Will you work to end the special benefits that the Boy Scouts receive and require that they be treated as any other outside group?
After I was elected President of the Board of Education in 2000, I inquired as to whether there is an official relationship with DCPS and the Boys Scouts and was told that there is none, but like other groups they use our facilities for after school programs in some cases.
11. Do you oppose legislation or initiative that would authorize organized prayers in our public schools and that would thereby encourage the harassment of students and teachers who decline to participate?
I am opposed to organized prayer in the public schools because I am sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution. If students or staff desire to have organized prayer, they can form groups to do so after the instructional day. I do, however, have tremendous respect for the role that religion has played and continues to play in the African American community.
12. Recent federal court rulings and DC law recognize that harassment against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is illegal with the school system liable if harassment continues. Do you support the recently adopted DCPS policy designed to stop harassment and sexual harassment?
Yes. GLAA is to be commended for being in the forefront of the effort to draft an anti-harassment policy. When I was elected, I asked for such a policy to be developed by the BOE Committee on Special Education & Student Services. The emphasis now should be on enforcement.
13. In past searches for new Superintendents of D.C. public schools, the School Board invited representatives of GLAA to serve on its community advisory board and to suggest questions for the finalists. Will you ensure that a GLAA representative is included among those allowed to monitor the Board's interviews with finalists in future Superintendent searches?
Yes. My door is always open to GLAA as well as other activists who work for all civil rights.
14. Do you oppose the congressional imposition of a voucher program for private and sectarian schools in the District?
Yes, I oppose any voucher program. It is clear that voucher programs falsely raise the hopes of low-income families and circumvent the Constitution by funding religious schools. I have spoken and written publicly against vouchers.
Your record is part of your rating. Please list any actions that you have taken that may help illustrate your record on behalf of lesbians and gay men.
My modus operandi has always been guided by justice and fairness. The unfinished business of the human and civil rights agenda is. I viscerally feel this on a philosophical and personal level. My late brother Billy was Gay and I have a Gay brother, Mario Cooper, who has been very active in the HIV/AIDS struggle. When I ran in 2000, members of the GLBT community were very active in my campaign. Bradley Lewis, former chair of the DC Coalition, was on my campaign staff, Michael Sainte-Andress was a Ward 8 precinct captain, and a GLBT fundraiser was held for me at the home of Sheila Alexander-Reid, the chair of Women in the Life. Also, GLAA member Philip Pannell served as my campaign co-chair and has served as my Executive Assistant since August 2001. In May 2001, the African American GLBT organizations and their friends and supporters had a benefit at my home. It's simple: fairness, equal education and equal opportunity for all.