A group of Desert Ridge High School parents is allowing their children to stay home from school Friday to protest National Day of Silence. One parent is even inviting students to his house for swimming and pizza.
E-mails and fliers asking parents to keep their children home from the Gilbert Unified School District school classes on Friday have been circulating as well.
The National Day of Silence asks students to take a vow of silence either all day or part of the day to bring attention to bullying, name-calling and harassment. The day is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
When participating students are asked why they are not talking, they display a "speaking card" explaining why they are choosing not to talk, said Stacie Wylie, a teacher and the school's sponsor of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Supporters Club.
Many do not understand the purpose of the day, Wylie said, adding it is "not even a pro-homosexual campaign. It's an anti-bullying campaign."
However, parents and students protesting the day assert that it's all about gay and lesbian rights. Many say they are not anti-gay, they just don't believe the educational setting is the place for these types of discussions, even though students are choosing to be silent. They say by some students choosing to be silent, their children are forced to participate or feel awkward throughout the day.
Day of Silence is not a school-sanctioned event. Students choose to participate independently.
Randy Bellino said his son, Jake, a Desert Ridge sophomore, should be learning about math and science, not gay and lesbian rights. He is the parent inviting students over to swim and eat pizza.
Jake said he is against going to school on this day because "they are supporting gay rights and gay people the whole day."
"I don't believe they should have a day for it at our school," said Jake, a varsity football team member. "If they do that, there should be a straight day, Italian day, Christian day and Mormon day."
Jake circulated a petition Wednesday and obtained 160 signatures, his father said. The petition stated: "There should be a day of education about the harassment and bullying of people, instead of the GLSEN Silent Day. Do you support this statement?"
Brittni Gonzales, a Desert Ridge senior, is choosing to be silent Friday to support her gay friends. She said it's "outrageous" that people are saying students are being pressured to participate.
"I think it's ridiculous that people are trying to take it away from us," she said. "I think that it's ridiculous because no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there's always going to be a gay lifestyle. People are gay. There's nothing you can do about it. I believe they are denying the fact that homosexual abuse and harassment happens."
Matthew Heil, co-chairman of the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, said school is a place where all types of discussions occur.
"This is certainly not any form of aggressive action," Heil said. "They're only handing out cards. People aren't confronting anyone. I just hope that people aren't avoiding it because they don't want to have the discussion at all."
Heil said days such as Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day are designed to open up discussion and remember national events, just like Day of Silence.
This year's event will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a California eighth-grader shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression.
The 12th annual Day of Silence has created more concern this year, more so than any other year, said Desert Ridge Principal Daniel Coombs.
Coombs said the day has caused miscommunication between parents, and that this will be a normal school day. "There is no hidden agenda, no need for people to worry about what does this mean," he said.
Last year, about 300 Desert Ridge High students participated in Day of Silence, Wylie said. She said she knows of at least 100 students who have shown interest in participating this year.
Dianne DeLeon said her 16-year-old son, Buck, is staying home because she doesn't think it's fair for someone else to "shove their sexual preference down" her child's throat, and she feels it's disruptive to the learning environment.
"To me it's kind of setting a day of separating rather than pulling together," DeLeon said. "What does it matter if someone is gay or lesbian? I mean, are we having sex at school? That's a private issue."
Wylie said she doesn't think it's "us against them. I think a group of students are very passionate in gay or civil rights," and they are choosing to exercise that right, she said.
Bobby Belmontes said his 14-year-old son, Shaun, will not be going to school Friday because he "kind of thinks it's a bunch of crock."
He said, using the same logic, the school should celebrate Cinco de Mayo or "Mexican day" because his son is discriminated against for being Mexican.
Kaye Ashby said she is "totally against" her 16-year-old son, Kolby, being subjected to the Day of Silence.
"We have values that we teach at home," she said. "The school setting should be an education, not to impose values. That's my job, not the school."
Other than some students choosing to be silent, no activities are planned on campus, except for after school.
There will be a "breaking of silence" after school in the cafeteria, where students would stop their silence at the same time with a simultaneous shouting, to let it all out. Wylie said. A discussion of the events of the day will follow, she said.