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Stephen Williams, a fifth grade teach at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, CA is suing his employing principal and the local school board for objecting to the handouts given to his students. The Alliance Defense Fund floated an inflammatory press release which resulted in extreme abuse directed at the school, its principal and the school district.
The following email letter was placed in our guestbook on January 29, 2005. Although we felt that the guestbook was not quite the right place for it, we are happy to include it on the web site.
Saturday 01/29/2005 3:47:14pm
Name: Jean Marie
Homepage Title: We The Parents
Homepage URL: http://www.stevenscreekparents.org
Referred By: Just Surfed In
Location: Cupertino, CA
Comments: Contact: Nathalie Schuler Ferro
Cupertino, California. 1-24-2005. A group of parents from Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, California, has sent a letter to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) requesting the retraction of a misleading press release, and an apology for the damages caused.
On November 22, 2004, the ADF issued a press release with the headline, "Declaration of Independence banned from classroom," to publicize a lawsuit filed in Federal Court against Stevens Creek Elementary School principal Patricia Vidmar, the school district and school board members. Due to its inflammatory nature, the press release was widely covered in the media and resulted in thousands of obscene and hostile calls, faxes and emails directed at Vidmar and the school To ensure the safety of students and staff, the Santa Clara Sheriff's Department posted two Sheriff Officers on school grounds to protect the children and staff for the weeks following their return to class from the Thanksgiving holiday.
"For the ADF to target Stevens Creek Elementary in this way is, to be charitable, silly. If anything, our school should be hailed by this group I once supported," said Larry Woodard. "The founding documents are taught in the correct historic and religious context. Our children sing patriotic songs such as ‘God Bless America' in class and school assemblies; recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the version that includes ‘under God,' every day; and holds an annual Holiday sing-along. The "Good News Club", an after school Christian club meets regularly on campus, along with other after school organizations."
The lawsuit concerned the way in which the principal reviewed lesson plans and supplemental handouts of fifth grade teacher Stephen Williams, following a number of complaints from parents over an extended period of time. According to the open letter, the press release, which is still posted on the ADF web site, contains a number of glaring inaccuracies:
The Declaration of Independence was not banned. It is printed in full in the textbook that all fifth grade teachers, including the claimant, Mr. Stephen Williams use. It is also posted in locations throughout the school.
During the Hannity and Colmes program, Williams denied the claim that the Declaration of Independence was banned.
The children at Stevens Creek Elementary are taught history with the correct religious background in an exemplary program within the district. The school has been widely recognized for the Living History Program implemented at the fifth grade level every year.
According to Mike Johnson of the ADF (Baptist Press News, December 20, 2004), "The school ground is the battleground now in the culture war when it comes to religious expression. Teachers are in the crosshairs." The letter urges ADF to remember that, in schools, children are most affected by that hostile environment.
"What right do they have to disrupt our community and make a police presence necessary at our school?" Richard Crouch said, "It is sad that a group that claims to protect the 'right to speak and hear the Truth' should show such contempt for the facts while pursuing what we believe is a political agenda."
Nathalie Schuler noted, "I know parents in the school who used to donate to the ADF, but are now absolutely disgusted by their assertions and what they see as un-Christian behavior. I hope that anyone who cares about the well-being of this nation's children will think twice before supporting this group when there are so many other honorable Christian organizations in need of support."
The letter to the ADF is posted on www.stevenscreekparents.org. [editor's note: it is reprinted in full below.
Open letter to Alliance Defense Fund
We, The Parents, an organization of parents of students at Stevens Creek Elementary School in Cupertino, California, request that you retract the misstatements about our school contained in your press release dated 11/23/04, still present on your website. Further, we feel that a public apology from your organization for the disruption it has caused our community would be appropriate.
Your press release, which falsely asserts that our school has banned the Declaration of Independence from the classroom, was picked up by Reuters, and quickly spread via internet blogs, talk show radio, and, of course, Fox News. The school's mailboxes, answering machines and emails were thereafter flooded with well over 3000 hate-filled messages from all over the country and abroad. Security, including sheriff's patrols, was immediately heightened at the school much to the concern and distress of both parents and children.
While you may not have directly contacted the many people who felt compelled to vent their hostility toward our principal and school, we believe your organization is nonetheless responsible. This reaction was the direct consequence of the incendiary headline that can still be found on your web page, "Declaration of Independence Banned from Classroom." We therefore ask that you stop exposing our school and our children to more harm by continuing to state what is clearly false on your website. We request a withdrawal of your headline and a public retraction. Surely, in all good conscience, you cannot continue to falsely represent that our school has banned the Declaration of Independence from the classroom.
Your group states on its website that it supports and defends families and family values. Yet, it appears that since 2001 you have targeted schools and therefore the families that make up those schools in order to achieve what we believe is your political agenda. In a recent interview, one of your spokespersons said that you view schools as the "new battleground." Do you realize that your battleground is where we send our children? Is that the environment in which you want to fight a battle? How does learning take place in a school besieged by hate mail triggered by an incendiary and erroneous headline on your website? We wonder if your supporters realize that your actions may be tearing the very fabric you purport to weave.
We have seen firsthand that truth has been a casualty in this case. But most of all it is disturbing to see how an organization that claims to defend the truth and Christian values spreads false information about our school, its principal and our local school board. These actions can only undermine the public's trust in your organization, and may cause even some of your supporters to question your actions and your judgment.
It is not our objective to address whether your lawsuit has any merit; that will ultimately be decided by the courts. We would, however, like to point out a few discrepancies between what you have stated on your website and the truth:
1. Our Principal, Patricia Vidmar, and our School District have never banned the Declaration of Independence. It is fully reproduced in the fifth grade history text book that Stephen Williams and all other Stevens Creek fifth grade teachers are obliged to use in their classrooms and is proudly displayed at the library of the school, where it always has been.
2. In the Hannity and Colmes program (12/8/04), you attended with your client, Mr. Williams himself denied your false claim that the Declaration of Independence was banned by our Principal! He called it a "bit of a stretch" and even stated "my kids have read the Declaration."
3. Our children, contrary to what you have led many to believe, are properly taught not only the Declaration of Independence, but all the other founding documents included in the fifth grade history curriculum. In fact, our Living History program is highly touted as an example to follow for other schools. Through this program, our children re-live the days of the explorers and the Colonial Days. And the highlight of the program is the overnight Revolutionary War Encampment that allows them to learn about the war, medical practices of the day, social customs and food of the period and experience firsthand some of the hardships our patriots experienced.
According to your website, the purpose of your organization is "defending the right to hear and speak the Truth . . . ." Why do you stray from the truth in this case? We urge you now to set the record straight, retract your false assertion regarding the Declaration of Independence and apologize for the harm done to our fine school and its reputation.
We the parents and over 55 signatures on file.