Thursday, November 4, 2004

Pro-Kerry homework irks Mom

Catholic school defends it

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

FORT THOMAS - A mother here is angry that her sixth-grade son was required to make a pro-John Kerry poster at a Catholic school.

Shea Vara-Heck said she will complain to the Diocese of Covington about an Oct. 28 assignment at St. Thomas School.

As part of a lesson on democracy, sixth-graders used newspaper articles to research 10 positive points about Kerry and President Bush. The children then made pro-Kerry or pro-Bush posters, incorporating three of the items from the lists.

The posters were hung around the school in preparation for a mock election Friday, which Bush won handily.

Half of the sixth-graders, including Vara-Heck's son, 11-year-old Christian Heck, were assigned to do Kerry posters.

Vara-Heck said that as a Catholic, she opposed Kerry's candidacy because he supported abortion rights, stem-cell research and the granting of certain legal rights to gay couples. She didn't want her son exposed to such viewpoints, regardless of the lesson's purpose, she said.

In trying to help Christian make his poster, Vara-Heck suggested the slogan, "Kerry's got great hair." But Christian said that wouldn't work.

He also mentioned that Kerry's pro-choice position might be a reason some people would vote for him.

"I almost fell off my chair," Vara-Heck said.

Vara-Heck refused to have her son complete the assignment and complained to the teacher, Barb Hahn, as well as St. Thomas Principal Sharon Bresler. In e-mail exchanges with Vara-Heck, they defended the lesson as a research project about election issues.

When Vara-Heck asked that her son be given a different assignment, such as making a Ralph Nader poster, the school said Nader was not on the school ballot.

Christian received a zero on the homework.

When topics such as the death penalty or abortion came up in class, Hahn told the children the Catholic church's position but also explained that not all voters saw issues the same way, Bresler said.

"I can assure you that the children have been taught very clearly about the great immorality of abortion, and that it is clear to them that one of the candidates is emphatically pro-abortion, in great opposition to the church," Bresler wrote to Vara-Heck.

Bresler said the school was trying to show both sides.

"We couldn't show that with 98 percent of the posters for Bush and 2 percent for Kerry," she said.


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