Tag Archive | "Michael Levengood"

Two Sides to Every Coin

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Maple Shade, New Jersey, is a quiet town of working class people known as the Gateway to Burlington County.  A few weeks ago, however, it achieved notoriety when a local resident and parent of a student at Maude Wilkins Elementary School (Grades 3 and 4), Janine Patterson Giandomenico, became the source of a conservative cause célèbre when she complained on the social networking website, Facebook, that boys had to dress as girls in a fashion show on the evolution of women’s clothing at the school.  In part, Ms. Giandomenico stated:


“How is dressing like a woman from any era going to teach him about history?  Why not let him do a report, poster, or other project on this subject?  If he was attending a vocational school in the field of textiles, women’s fashion, etc, then it would make sense.  My son is adamantly opposed, and I don’t see how forcing my 9-year-old to cross-dress in front of the entire school body is going to teach him anything about Women’s History.”


Her rant was picked up by Warren Todd Huston, editor and opinion writer of the Publius Forum (http://www.publiusforum.com/) website.   He wrote:


“The cross-dressing day is to take place April 16 to coincide with the gay activist’s school event called “Day of Silence,” a nation-wide effort ostensibly meant as an anti-bullying program. However, the real purpose of the event is an effort to spread the homosexual agenda in our schools… This is a pretty outrageous school event. Forcing grade school boys to dress up as women makes no sense whatever. Pushing the gay agenda while feminizing our young boys through a cross-dressing day? This isn’t your parent’s grade school celebration, for sure.”


As the story made its way across the Web, it was picked up by the national news media and aired, creating a firestorm that descended on Maude Wilkins School principal Beth Norcia who canceled the show and sent out a letter to the parents informing them of the cancellation of the show and its replacement by an assignment in which students would draw how women’s fashioned have evolved.


Superintendent Michael Levengood investigated the allegations and indicated that the original letter that said, in part, “if your child is a young man, he does not have to wear a dress or skirt, as there are many time periods when women wore jeans, pants and trousers.  However, each child must be able to express what time period their outfit is from.  Most of all, your child should have fun creating their outfit and learning about how women’s clothing has changed!” could have been misunderstood.  (See image of the letter in its entirety at conclusion of this article).


Also, he stated flatly “the school wasn’t trying to make anyone uncomfortable and was not aware of the gay rights protest on the same day, it’s unbelievable to me that the wording of a letter to a group of third-graders could have caused this, do you really think that our group of third grade teachers conspired to get boys to cross-dress?” Mr. Levengood added “I’ve learned a lesson to make sure communications between teachers and parents are reviewed before they go out.”


As we all go through life, we are faced with discerning truth from fiction in a variety of scenarios.  Among the most difficult of these is the case where information based upon an assumption is passed on as fact.  During my childhood, I can remember my father saying frequently, “there are two sides to every coin, and you must see both sides before making an educated decision.”


Following my father’s advice, I paid a visit to Principal Norcia of Maude Wilkins School.  Introducing myself, I asked about the situation that put her school in the national limelight.


Her response was that the entire circumstance was born of a misunderstanding.  In an attempt to create a school project for Women’s History Month about the evolution of women’s clothing, the parent in question misinterpreted the letter she received from her son’s teacher as a request for her son and the other boys to cross-dress.  The parent’s complaint on Facebook was exaggerated by a conservative blogger unfamiliar with the situation and later reported by other mainstream media as fact.  The resultant protests, many of which were received from people external to the school district, led to the cancellation of the project.


I asked the principal if the parent who publicly complained had contacted her regarding her concerns.  She responded, “No” and that no other complaints had been received.  Regarding the nature of the project, she indicated that it concerned how women dressed in the early part of the 20th century and that the children were asked to dress in clothing like their grandparents wore.


Concerning the public outcry, Principal Norcia indicated that the factors that led to the decision to cancel the project were the enormous numbers of email messages received from people all around the country – a number of which were vile in nature and the threat of possible demonstrations outside the school.


And so, the question remains:  was this a simple case of miscommunication or some type of plot by educators to promote homosexuality among young children?  My bet is on the former, as the latter is just too farfetched.  Let me further add that it saddens me that we live in a society so polarized that a communication from a teacher to parents, no matter how inarticulately written, could create the type of response we have witnessed in this situation.


It seems to me that a lot of grief could have been spared in this instance had the parent in question spoken directly with the teacher and principal to see the other side of the coin.


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