California teacher's outing leads to investigation
March 25 2004 12:00 AM ET
The Camarillo Unified School District in Southern California launched an investigation this week into the private life of social studies teacher Ron Fanelle after he talked to some of his students about his recent marriage to his partner of 15 years, Randy Serak. Fanelle, who wed Serak on Valentine's Day in San Francisco, said the investigation began after several of his seventh- and eighth-grade students approached him about a rumor going around campus. "The kids walked in and there was a buzz about it," Fanelle told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. "They said, 'We heard you got married on Valentine's Day; is it true?' I said yes. They asked, 'Was it a man?' I said yes." Students then asked about his partner's name, their relationship, and the wedding. "I said, 'His name is Randy. It was a beautiful wedding. Any other questions?'" said Fanelle, who has taught in the district for five years.
Prompted by complaints from several parents, the school district decided to investigate the matter. "Our intent is to make sure we have all the facts and we preserve everyone's rights," said superintendent Tom Dase on Monday to the Times. "We're not investigating an individual, and we're certainly not investigating Mr. Fanelle because he's homosexual." One parent pulled his child out of Fanelle's class, and the father of another accused Fanelle of promoting a "pro-gay agenda." Fanelle, who insists he didn't broach the subject of being gay or his marriage, has filed a complaint against two teachers he believes helped spread the word to students about his homosexuality. Following strong remarks from parents at a March 7 school board meeting, the school district decided it could not ignore the parents' and students' concerns. "We're trying to teach appropriate behavior toward people's personal lives," said school board president Sandra Berg. "We're trying to set parameters and find out what the appropriate procedures would be for kids."
Meanwhile, many parents are showing their support for Fanelle and his recent outing. "I, for one, find nothing distressing whatsoever in a teacher indicating his or her sexual orientation to my children," wrote Elizabeth Rice in a letter to Principal Sara Davis, even though her son is not in Fanelle's class. "As I am sure you are aware, the angry voices you hear at Monte Vista do not speak for many of us. Indeed, I believe equally strongly that we should not continue the prejudice against, and denial of civil rights to, this minority group," wrote Rice. The Ventura County chapter of the California Teachers Association hired a lawyer to represent Fanelle. Additionally, Fanelle has contacted an attorney through the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.