By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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“It seemed to me that now the school district will pay attention,” said Cynthia Deford of Port Angeles on Tuesday after she removed the petition — which she said drew more than 600 signatures — from SignOn.org.
The petition was posted Nov. 10, after Deford said an instructor wore a “No on 74: one man + one woman = marriage” button in her daughter's eighth-grade classroom.
The button referred to the Nov. 6 election referendum to legalize gay marriage. It won with a 53 percent majority of the statewide vote.
Deford said the button offended her daughter, a Stevens Middle School student, who lives with Deford and her lesbian partner.
Superintendent Jane Pryne, who was not available for comment Tuesday, has said that the district already has a policy in place and that the issue was now a personnel matter.
Deford plans to deliver the printed out version of the petition — as well as the signatures and comments by some who signed it — to the Port Angeles School District office, she said Tuesday.
Signatures on the petition were automatically emailed to Pryne and Deford, as well as Stevens Middle School Principal Chuck Lisk and President Barack Obama.
Deford's petition, posted at tinyurl.com/cjcgw99 until it was pulled, said:
“Urge the Port Angeles School District to prohibit politicking by teachers in the K-12 classrooms. This would not affect balanced discussion of political issues in civics, history, social sciences, etc.”
The mother would not name her daughter or give her age. An eighth grader is usually 13 or 14.
Neither Pryne nor Deford would identify the teacher after requests from the Peninsula Daily News.
“I don't want anything to happen to this teacher,” Deford said Tuesday.
Deford, in her online petition discussion, had said that the teacher in question is male and teaches mathematics.
Deford has said that she wanted an apology and sensitivity training for teachers, and was not asking that the teacher be removed and had no intention of introducing a lawsuit.
The Associated Press picked up an abbreviated version of the Peninsula Daily News' Sunday story about Deford's petition.
It was used by newspapers and radio-TV stations nationwide, which surprised her.
“I never expected it to become national news,” she said.
Deford said she would have been happy to get 50 signatures on the petition, but it grew quickly from 50 to 200, and then, when it got media attention, to more than 600 signatures.
Signers ranged from North Olympic Peninsula residents to people living in other states.
Most responses were supportive, as various organizations and individuals contacted her through the site, Deford said.
“There were a few people who were not nice. That was a little scary, too,” she said.
The biggest surprise, she said, other than how far the story spread, was how many people don't know the law when it comes to teachers expressing personal politics in classrooms, she said.
Port Angeles School District has a policy specifically forbidding teachers from campaigning for an issue or candidate in the classroom.
The district's Procedure 5252P says:
“An employee may not campaign for a political candidate or for a political issue during school hours on school property.”
It adds that a violation could lead to “sufficient cause for reprimand or dismissal.”
Deford said her daughter has not been targeted because of the petition, by students or others, despite her worries.
“She's a strong person with a great group of friends,” she said.
From the beginning, Deford said she wanted to make it clear that her daughter was not a part of the protest, and didn't even know about it at first.
“It wasn't my daughter who complained,” she said.
“It was me.”
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.