LOS ANGELES - A Novato parent's group and a Los Angeles-based children's theater company filed a motion today in federal court to intervene as defendants in the case Citizens for Parental Rights v. Novato Unified School District. The ACLU of Southern California, ACLU of Northern California, and National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project are representing a local coalition of parents, students and organizations concerned with equality, United for Safe Schools Novato; and the educational theater company, Fringe Benefits.
The lawsuit attacked the Novato school district for presenting the theater company's shows in two elementary schools. The show, entitled "Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry," is a series of plays, poems and songs illustrating the hurtful effects of name-calling and strategies for coping with intolerance in a school setting. In one entertaining alternative to a traditional fairy tale, a tomboy encounters Rapunzel in her tower and persuades her to play outside instead of waiting for her prince.
"The lawsuit has no legal merit," said Martha Matthews, Bohnett Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "Our concern is that it may deter other California schools from engaging in diversity education. In a state as diverse as California, these programs are urgently needed to make our schools safe and fair for all students."
Students, parents, and educators throughout California and in other states have enthusiastically received the "Cootie Shots" show, but a small group of Novato parents objected to the show, claiming that they had a right to prevent their children from seeing it. United for Safe Schools Novato and Fringe Benefits decided to intervene and help the school district defend the lawsuit and its right to educate children about the values of diversity and acceptance.
National Center for Lesbian Rights joins the ACLU in representing the theater group and United for Safe Schools Novato. NCLR is the only national public interest law center dedicated to achieving full civil and human rights fo all lesbians through a program of litigation, public policy, advocacy, community education, and free legal advice and counseling. "As strong advocates for lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender individuals, NCLR strongly supports the Novato school district's efforts to increase tolerance on campus through creative programs like 'Cootie Shots,'" said NCLR lawyer Courtney Joslin.
"Schools have an obligation to try to prevent harassment and promote diversity," said Tamara Lange, staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Courts shouldn't allow private organizations to stop schools from using valuable tools to protect kids."
The case is pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.