MA girl harassed at school for having two moms

This article appeared in the
Boston Globe

Complaint spurs review of school diversity policy By Rich Fahey,
Globe Correspondent

October 11, 2007

The Milton School Committee is reviewing its diversity policies
following complaints that a 9-year-old girl was verbally abused and
physically threatened after she told her fellow third-graders at
Tucker Elementary School that her mother is a lesbian.

Virginia Gaffey, the girl’s mother, and her attorney have asked
school officials to institute a formal sensitivity and tolerance
curriculum at all levels. Superintendent of Schools Magdalene
Giffune is expected to report back to the School Committee next

Gaffey said what began as verbal harassment last January became
more serious over the year, and culminated in what her attorney,
Claudia Gregoire, in a letter to school officials, called a “group
assault” on Sept. 10. Gaffey said six or seven students surrounded
her daughter on the playground that day and were “pushing her back
and forth,” and two hit her. It ended when another child

After consultations with school officials, a safety plan was
devised that involved having the child escorted to her classes by a
substitute teacher, but the plan was abandoned after a day and the
child was then transferred last month to the nearby Glover
Elementary School.

School officials say that privacy and legal issues prevent them
from commenting on incidents involving specific students or
disciplinary matters involving children, but that the safety and
security of every student are of utmost importance.

“It’s paramount that we provide a safe environment for our
children,” said School Committee chairman Beirne Lovely, who said
the schools already have policies in place that address
discrimination based on gender or lifestyle.

The extent to which current School Committee policies address the
specific issue was not immediately clear. Committee member Glenn
Pavlicek asked Giffune to review the schools’ Second Step program
for relevance; Giffune said the program involves conflict
resolution more than content, and might not specifically address
the area of family diversity.

“We’re looking at how this issue has been presented in the past and
whether we can do a better job of it,” said Giffune. “Any
organization periodically reviews its policies to see if they need
to be updated.”

Now that Massachusetts law allows gays and lesbians to marry, any
training should reflect that, say advocates of gay and lesbian

During the Citizens Speak segment of the committee’s last meeting,
on Oct.
2, both Gaffey and parent Candice Monson – who is married to
another woman and has two children in Collicot Elementary School –
addressed the issue.

Monson said that there is no formal network of same-sex parents
with children in the town’s schools, but that she spoke to support

She said she would “like the emphasis on family diversity to
account for all types of family constellations in which our
community’s children are being reared and loved. I don’t want us
also to overlook other diversity within Milton – race, religion,
ethnicity, age, gender, etc.”

Monson says that her children have not been subjected to any
harassment, and that she and her partner have met with Collicot
principal Gerard Schultz, who she said was supportive. Both Monson
and Gaffey said they have trained their children how to respond if
they are questioned about their family.

Gaffey said her daughter’s difficult time at Tucker school had a
profound effect, and she no longer feels comfortable discussing her
family situation. Gaffey also criticized as “insensitive” what she
says was advice given by a counselor at Tucker that her daughter be
careful about whom she discussed her family situation with.

Gaffey said that while there have been two minor incidents at
Glover since her child transferred there – both of which she
attributed to a lack of education – Glover principal Dore Korschun
has been supportive. “I like the Glover School,” said Gaffey. “I’m
not angry at the Glover School.”

School Committee members said that any disciplinary action against
Tucker students would not come under their purview. “That’s the
function of the individual principals and the superintendent,” said
Lovely. “Our job is to assess the policies.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Pride, an advocacy
group for gay and lesbian parents, also called for a structured
curriculum that addresses family diversity, but said there was
plenty that schools could do in the meantime to improve the

“Teachers can be trained, it can be brought up at school forums,
and talked about whenever family issues are raised in the
classroom,” said Chrisler, the mother of two children in the Newton
schools, adding that it is especially important given the state’s
recognition of same-sex marriage.

Correspondent Rich Fahey can be reached at

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company