Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 17, 2006

Parents, students broiling at Boyd

Teacher shows ‘Brokeback’ to high schoolers

By MIKE JAMES / The Independent

Cannonsburg — An English teacher at Boyd County High School showed part of the movie “Brokeback Mountain” to students in her advanced placement class last week, said one of the students in the class.

The showing has angered some parents in a district already up in arms over anti-harassment training focusing on sexual orientation.

“This is a really bad time for all this to have happened,” said Kelley Smith, whose son Chris, 17, was in the class. “If she wanted to show it in class she should have gotten parents’ permission and if some students wanted to see it, it should have been their choice.”

Teacher Ann Qualls showed about the first 15 to 20 minutes of the Oscar-winning movie about the romantic relationship between two Wyoming sheepherders, Chris Smith said.

Qualls announced her intention to show the movie, handed out some background papers, and then started the movie, he said.

After 15 or 20 minutes Qualls stopped the movie and switched to a documentary on the special features menu of the DVD, he said.

No sexually explicit scenes were shown, he said.

He and some of his classmates would have preferred to leave but no one asked or tried to leave for fear of being labeled homophobic, he said. “It’s against my beliefs. That’s why God made a man and a woman ... It shouldn’t even be allowed in schools,” he said.

On Friday Qualls told the class some parents had complained to superintendent Howard K. Osborne and that she anticipated a possible suspension, Chris Smith said. “She said she didn’t give a s--- about it,” he said.

Qualls didn’t show any more of the movie that day, he said.

Smith didn’t attend school Monday or Wednesday and school was out Tuesday because of the election so he doesn’t know whether Qualls showed parts of the movie this week.

Qualls could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She was not in school, Osborne said.

Osborne said her absence was not due to a disciplinary action and that he didn’t know why she was not in school.

The district has launched an investigation and will be interviewing people today, he said.

He said he didn’t know who, including students, would be interviewed. “Whoever we need to with the inquiry.”

The movie won’t be shown again at school, Osborne said. He said he didn’t know whether school policy requires gaining permission to show a movie in class.

Chris Smith didn’t attend school Monday or Wednesday because those were the days the anti-harassment video was shown, Kelley Smith said.

“My children are sick. If they don’t attend, it’s an unexcused absence, so my children are sick,” she said.

Kelley Smith said her children won’t attend the training at all and that many other parents feel the same. “I’m not the only one, apparently, to keep my child home.”

Qualls appears in the anti-harassment video, leading students in a roundtable discussion.

Under the terms of an agreement that settled a lawsuit against the district, the anti-harassment training is mandatory for all students in the high school and Boyd County Middle School.

The settlement has angered many in the district who believe the training reflects a pro-gay bias.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2652.