A Christian legal organization has refuted a claim by State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson that the Governor’s School of North Carolina is not a public school required to adhere to the state’s abstinence-only sexual education program.

In addition, Michael Johnson, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, has reiterated a demand for the Governor’s School to discontinue educational programs that discuss “illicit human sexuality.” Johnson and ADF had initiated a complaint to the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education in February, because the Governor’s School held in Winston-Salem last summer conducted a seminar entitled “The New Gay Teenager” without parental consent.

In his February letter to DPI and to the State Board of Education, Johnson had cited North Carolina statutes that stipulate that the State Board of Education “has the sole authority to develop and approve courses and programs that concern human sexuality education.” Another state law requires an “emphasis on the importance of parental involvement” and “abstinence from sex until marriage” in any such curriculum.

Johnson’s letter Tuesday responded to a March 16 letter from Atkinson, in which she defended the “Gay Teenager” seminar by emphasizing that it was optional for students, and by stating that the Governor’s School “is not a ‘public school’ as that term is used in [the statute] and is not required to adhere to the Basic Education Program….”

Johnson insisted that the Governor’s School is a public school, citing another statute that defines a public school as “any day school conducted within the State under the authority and supervision of a duly elected or appointed city or county school board, and any educational institution supported by and under the control of the State.”

“We find it ironic that a letter sent from the State Board —explaining the actions and content of a program instituted and led by employees of [DPI] and funded by the General Assembly with taxpayer dollars — actually attempts to argue that the program is not a ‘public school,'” Johnson wrote Tuesday.

In his original complaint to DPI and the State Board of Education, Johnson said state law requires “that parents be given the opportunity to review sex education programs, materials and objectives before any student may participate….” He also said the law requires public hearings before sex education programs are adopted.

The six-week Governor’s School is held every summer, with 400 students each at two locations: Salem College in Winston-Salem (West) and Meredith College in Raleigh (East). The residential program draws public high school students who are approaching their senior years, and who are nominated by their high schools’ teachers and administrators.

“The New Gay Teenager” was heavily criticized by James and Beverly Burrows, whose son attended Governor’s School last year and said he returned home from the school “confused” about homosexuality as a result of the seminar. The Burrowses say they were not warned beforehand about the “Gay Teenager” seminar, and contacted ADF about its legality.

Johnson originally warned DPI to prohibit “any similar seminars or unapproved sexuality education curricula…in the future,” and requested “written assurance that religious viewpoints will no longer be maligned…at all future Governor’s programs.”

Atkinson’s response provided no promises, other than “to examine course offerings and instructional practices at the [Governor’s School West] to be sure that they are consistent with the [school’s] mission to enrich the lives of its students.”

“Based upon our review of the events,” Atkinson wrote, “we are satisfied that ‘The New Gay Teenager’ optional seminar did not violate anyone’s legal rights.”

That wasn’t good enough for Johnson.

“If the Attorney General’s office will not cooperate and assist these concerned citizens, they may be left with no other recourse but to seek damages and injunctive relief through the courts,” Johnson wrote in Tuesday’s letter to Thomas Ziko, a lawyer in the education section of the Department of Justice who is handling the Governor’s School case.

A call to Ziko was referred to the Attorney General’s public information officer, Noelle Talley, who declined to make Ziko available for an interview. Also, Johnson made a Public Records Act request of all documents related to curriculum and materials for the 2006 Governor’s School program.

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.