CENTRE DAILY TIMES
Parent Criticizes School on Acanfora Issue
Rev. Dick Weston, parent of a Park Forest Junior High School student, yesterday criticized the State College Area School District’s request for dismissal of a student teacher because of the student’s membership in the Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS).
In an open letter to Robert C. Campbell, assistant superintendent of instruction, Mr. Weston recorded four objections to the release of Joseph Acanfora, 21, a secondary education student at the University who had been practice teaching in biology and earth and mineral sciences at the Park Forest school.
Mr. Acanfora was dismissed from practice teaching Tuesday morning upon request of the school district. District officials said their action was taken after notification from Madison Brewer, associate dean of education at the University that the student teacher was a plaintiff in a suit against the University filed by HOPS in Centre County Court 1ast Friday.
Mr. Weston, a minister of the Unitarian Fellowship of Centre County, said in his open letter to Dr. Campbell that he was writing as a parent of the Park Forest Junior High School student and said that he has three children in other schools in the district.
The parent’s objections were that the school district announced the dismissal in a news conference rather than notifying Mr. Acanfora privately, and thus leaving the choice of publicity to the individual; that the act was based only on the student teacher’s membership in an organization; that the school district unquestionably assumes that homosexuality is a deviation and destructive; and that the action was taken in anticipation of public disapproval.
“There had been no prior public word that Mr. Acanfora was a student teacher,’’ Mr. Weston wrote. “Your act jeopardizes his teaching career.”
Mr. Weston also criticized the district for threatening to dismiss any teacher on the same grounds.
Mr. Weston emphasized that Mr. Acanfora was not. dismissed for being homosexual but for being a member of a society that has both homosexual and heterosexual members who wish to educate the public about homosexuality.
In the HOPS by-laws, four objectives are defined:
1 - ’”Developing and implementing appropriate programs to aid the homosexual in the University community in his or her endeavor to understand and accept his or her sexual orientation.
2 - Providing as many opportunities for meaningful social interaction among homosexuals in the University community as are permissible under existing state laws.
3 - Creating greater harmony and understanding between homosexuals and the community at large.
4 - Encouraging members to engage in political activities for the purpose of reforming statutes concerning homosexual behavior.
To effect the objectives of the organization. HOPS specified in its complaint against the University that it would seek:
1 - “To explore the inequities existing in the heterosexual (hereinafter referred to as “straight”) male-dominated society, and in doing so to dispel ignorance, hostility, and prejudice against homosexuals who have chosen varieties of sexual expression at variance with the majority.
2 - To dispel as fraud the concept of homosexuality as a sickness.
3 - To expose as irrational, prevailing prejudices against homosexual affections, as such affections only contribute to the sickness of human relationships.
4 - To aid other receptive gays through their crisis of self- acceptance by aiding in an educational program whose purpose it will be to trace the harm resulting from homosexual interactions to its true source, i.e., feelings of fear and guilt resulting from societal prejudices and oppression and not the homosexua1 interaction itself.
5 - To guide gays troubled as a result of these societal prejudices and oppressions to proper counseling and assistance in the hopes that such gays may regain a sense of worth and dignity that they might better contribute to the advancement of themselves, the University, and society in general.
6 - To instill by educational means better understanding between the gay and straight communities that concepts such as sexual orientation as a basis for employment, as a basis for exclusion from the armed services, as a basis for exclusion from a career, can cease.
7 - To instill this better understanding between the gay and straight communities also in order to end the threats and intimidations from straight society which causes every gay as well as any straight who chooses to associate with gays to live in fear both physically and mentally; and
8 - To encourage members of plaintiff HOPS to engage in political activities through exhaustive recourse to legal and orderly channels in an attempt to seek reform of those laws which violate the privacy and autonomy of gay individuals.”
Dr. Campbell said in a news conference Tuesday that the school district, does not assume Mr. Acanfora is a homosexual. On Wednesday, Mr. Weston said that Dr. Campbell “made it absolutely clear to me that the district has no evidence of any kind about this.”
Referring to the district’s position that the same criteria would be used in judging any teacher in the system, Mr. Weston said, “All this displays a desire on the districts part to control the privately held beliefs and associations of its staff. That is an incredible threat to the freedom of our teachers and by extension, to all people in our society.”
Mr. Weston said he did not feel that homosexuality alone should be grounds for dismissal of any teacher or student teacher if one wore accused of being homosexual.
‘‘Current psychological opinion is split, and it is opinion, not fact, in regard to whether homosexuality is a deviation and destructive, or a normal form of sexuality,” Mr. Weston said.
“In either case, there is no more evidence that the mere presence of a homosexual tends to make his associates (or students, in the case of a teacher) turn homosexual, than there is that the mere presence of a black person tends to make his associates turn black. I doubt it in both cases.
“The stated reason for suddenly dismissing Mr. Acanfora was to forestall criticism from parents. As a parent of a Park Forest student, and of three children in other schools in. the district, I object to the assumption that ours is a monolithic public with one opinion only on issues such as this. I would prefer that you have good educational reasons for setting and explaining policy, rather than fear of adverse public reaction,” Mr. Weston said.