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Anti-bias policy linked to pulled science project

By Monte Whaley
Denver Post Staff Writer
Feb. 22, 2001 - BOULDER - A "hate speech" policy criticized last year may explain why an elementary school pulled a science fair project aimed at racism.

If that's the case, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the nondiscrimination code adopted by the Boulder Valley School District should be dumped or revamped.

"We will probably point out to them that their nondiscrimination policy may well violate the First Amendment to the Constitution," said ACLU spokesman Judd Golden.

The district is under fire for allowing teachers and administrators to take down a science experiment by a third-grader at Mesa Elementary School.

The experiment by an 8-year-old girl indicated that students at the school preferred a white Barbie doll over a black one. But the school refused to let the girl show her findings at a science fair for fear they might offend the school's minority students.

The district said there was a better time and place to discuss racial matters.

The girl's father, David Thielen, said the school should have let the exhibit stay up to encourage discussion about race in Boulder.

Thielen also said the district owed his daughter an apology. Central administrators have yet to do that, Thielen said Wednesday.

But the school's principal and his daughter's teacher have apologized for hurting the girl's feelings, Thielen said. They also have issued her an award for doing a science experiment.

The school, however, still believes it did the right thing, he said.

"We don't believe the school is racist or that the students are racist," Thielen said. "But we totally disagree with what they did." District administrators couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

The school district issued a nondiscrimination policy in 1995 and rewrote it last summer. It outlines processes to "prohibit discrimination, harassment and violence" in classrooms, according to the district.

The policy has been violated if an employee or student "displays visual or written material with the purpose or, depending upon the circumstances and context, effect of demeaning the race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or religion of any individual or group."

Golden said the ACLU is trying to find out if a strict reading of the policy, or an awareness of the document, led to the girl's science exhibit being taken down.

The ACLU claimed last year that the policy was overly broad and could lead to a violation of a student's right to free expression.

"It comes down to there needs to be a way the administration and teachers should know how to deal with this and understand that the First Amendment is in the Constitution," Golden said.

Copyright 2001 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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