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The Survey Says What?
Sexual-orientation questions cause stir at Port high school

By Tom Kertscher--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel--05/16/06

Port Washington - Parents are angry and school leaders are promising action in response to a "Heterosexual Questionnaire," approved by two teachers, that asked students questions such as: "If you have never slept with someone of your same gender, then how do you know you wouldn't prefer it?"

Hundreds of Port Washington High School students were told to submit written answers and discuss the survey.

The questionnaire was distributed by a student organization, which then led a full class-period discussion. Two teachers approved distribution of the survey. The principal did not.

Parent Lisa Krier on Monday called for the two teachers to be disciplined, saying the survey was a form of sexual harassment by teachers against students.

"If somebody doesn't call them on it, it will continue," she said.

Both Principal Duane Woelfel and Patty Ruth, president of the Port Washington-Saukville School Board, said the survey was inappropriate and that proper authorization was not given before it was brought into classrooms.

"The message that really needs to go out at this point is that this administration will ensure that this type of survey will never go out again," Ruth said.

Woelfel said he has received complaints from about two dozen parents and community members regarding the survey. The principal said he was not aware of the survey until a parent gave him a copy a day after it was distributed.

"We were extremely concerned when we found out about it, and we're going to make sure that it doesn't happen again," Woelfel said.

The teachers who Woelfel said are responsible for the survey - social studies teacher Sarah Olson and communications teacher Julie Grudzinski - could not be reached for comment.

Woelfel estimated that the survey was given to about 400 of the school's 930 students on April 25, the day before the national Day of Silence, an annual event co-sponsored by the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

According to the Day of Silence Web site, the event is a "student-led day of action" that attempts to eliminate harassment of non-heterosexual students.

Woelfel said that, in connection with the Day of Silence, the school's Students for Unity spent the day visiting classrooms. They distributed the surveys and led discussions, he said.

Woelfel said that the Students for Unity's goal of trying to prevent harassment of all people with "alternative lifestyles" is good but that the survey was not appropriate. The two teachers "are very remorseful," he said.

Some of the questions apparently were intended to make heterosexuals understand what it's like to be gay or lesbian. Those questions included: "What do you think caused your heterosexuality?" and "When did you decide you were heterosexual?"

Students in the group presenting the survey were trying to convey that "students who have an alternative lifestyle get asked these questions every day, so please be considerate. It was an exercise in compassion and understanding that did not work out real well," Woelfel said.

Woelfel said the survey violated school policy because parents were not notified in advance and given the opportunity to decide whether their children should participate.

Students were mixed in their reactions.

Sophomore Justin Perry said he didn't like being surveyed because he is against homosexuality - although he doesn't think it's something that people should be harassed about.

Perry said he did not understand the point of spending a class period on the survey. "I know it's a survey," he said, "but what is it trying to teach us?"

Freshman Jaime Reuter said the survey caused such a stir that, even though her class didn't take the survey, her social studies teacher made it part of a class discussion a couple of days later.

Reuter said she would have been offended if asked to take the survey. "I shouldn't have to answer that because it's private information," she said.

Reuter said she was sympathetic to supporters of the survey who had hoped it would reduce harassment of homosexuals, but she thought the survey backfired.

"I think it just got people really, really mad," she said.

Woelfel said he is still investigating the incident but would decide soon, along with the superintendent's office, whether the two teachers will be disciplined.

He also said the staff is working on a proposal that would impose tighter rules on circulating surveys in schools.

Ruth, the School Board president, said the board's Policy Committee could begin discussing a new policy as early as next week.

From the May 16, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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