PROVO Schools in the Provo District are not going to participate in the National Day of Silence, which asks students to give up talking for a day.
The event, slated for April 25, was created with the aim of symbolizing how students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are forced to keep quiet about their sexual orientation for fear of abuse at school and elsewhere.
In some schools, participating students wear a piece of tape over their mouth with a word such as "tolerance" written on the tape. They hand out a card explaining the reason behind their actions.
The event is sponsored by a national group called Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an organization working to end bullying and harassment in schools regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Rachel McNeil, director of youth programs for the Utah Pride Center, said the Day of Silence is about "creating safer schools and positive change."
Provo High School Principal Sam Ray sent an e-mail to Provo District administrators and board members on Thursday, saying Provo High will not be participating in the Day of Silence.
Ray reiterated the high school does not now have a Gay Straight Alliance Club and the high school has requested multiple times to be removed from the Day of Silence mailing list.
"I see this as an attempt by an outside group to disrupt our learning environment," Ray wrote.
Ray was not available for comment Thursday, nor was Provo District Superintendent Randall J. Merrill.
Assistant Superintendent Ray W. Morgan said Merrill spoke to principals after upset parents contacted the district about the potential Day of Silence. Merrill has said the event will not take place in the Provo District.
Morgan said, "Our purpose is education. Anything that disrupts learning and instruction would not be supported by our school district."
Morgan added the district believes in using respect, kindness and sensitivity regarding students. "We do need to be respectful of diversity," he said. "But there are limits to free speech in a school setting."
Karen McCreary, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, says the activities of the Day of Silence are protected by the First Amendment.
"Students have free speech rights," McCreary said.
She cites the 1969 Supreme Court ruling Tinker v. Des Moines that stated students could wear black arm bands to school to protest the Vietnam War.
"The Day of Silence is a terrific nonviolent way for students to express themselves," McCreary said. "I urge the schools to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about their concerns. It is a learning opportunity for everyone."
Some parents in the district have contacted school and board officials supporting the district's decision to not go forward with the Day of Silence.
"It seems that would be pretty disruptive to classes and to what's being taught in school," said parent Adrian Parry of Provo.
"I send my kids to school to learn, not be part of a political statement," Perry said.
Cathy Martinez, director of the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Resource Center at the University of Utah, said she doesn't believe the Day of Silence is disruptive. The U. will have its event on April 4 since classes are out on the national day, April 25, she said.
"It's unfortunate Provo School District isn't allowing it," Martinez said. "They may perceive it as a promotion of the homosexual lifestyle. It's not that at all."This year's Day of Silence is in memory of Lawrence King, 15, a California eighth-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression, according to the event Web site, www.dayofsilence.org.
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