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Lesson nixed after Heritage High teacher asks students their sexuality, religion

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WAKE FOREST — A Heritage High School parent said she is outraged and concerned about privacy this week after her 15-year-old son's English teacher required students to divulge personal details including their sexual orientation and religion.

The teacher was "directed to discontinue the lesson immediately," a school spokeswoman said.

The teacher handed out a worksheet titled "Diversity Inventory" that asked students to record their gender, race and ethnicity, age, sexuality, ability, religion and socioeconomic status. The students were then asked those same personal details about others in their life, including their friends, family, neighbors and doctor.

"I teach my son to overlook every one of those categories in choosing friends and she is categorizing kids and labeling kids with what we tell them not to look at," said Dina Bartus.

Bartus said her son's 10th grade English teacher, Mellisa Wilson, handed out the sheet on the second day of school. Bartus said the teacher then had students answer personal questions in front of the class by moving around the classroom and standing under categories that the students felt gave them privilege in their lives.

Bartus said her son showed her the worksheet after school. She said her son was uncomfortable and didn't want to participate.

She contacted the teacher, a counselor and the principal to express her outrage and demand her son be moved to another class.

The mother said she felt requiring her son to answer these questions in front of the teacher and other students violated her son's privacy. She said she was worried students could be bullied based on the answers they gave.

"It's hard enough to go to high school without your teacher trying to get you to divulge information you may not be ready to give out," Bartus said. She pointed out that employers could not legally ask these same questions of prospective employees.

Lisa Luten, communications director for Wake County Public School System, confirmed that "a teacher conducted a classroom activity" featuring the Diversity Inventory worksheet. Luten provided a copy of the worksheet handed out to students.

"After learning of concerns from a parent, the principal reviewed the activity and resource and directed the teacher to discontinue the lesson immediately," Luten said.

She said the worksheet was not provided by the district and that she was unaware of the lesson being conducted in other years or by other teachers.

"While we value efforts to build a classroom community that is inclusive and respectful of all students and backgrounds, the Wake County Public School System also respects and values student privacy and their right to engage in discussion about personal identity when they are comfortable to do so," Luten said. "We will continue to work with educators on how to effectively lead important conversations connected to identity, culture, and other sensitive topics as appropriate."

Luten said parents should feel comfortable raising concerns about specific lessons or classroom activities with teachers or principals.

Bartus said she also is concerned because the teacher collected written information on several students without making it clear how that data would be used or who would have access to it. The school said federal privacy laws prevent the disclosure of any of the information collected from students.

Bartus said she doesn't have a problem with a teacher talking about these topics in general terms and said she would be OK if students were asked these questions but not required to provide answers.

She also said she felt the teacher should lose her job.

"I honestly don't think she should be teaching minors," Bartus said. "If she wants to go to college and ask college students - they are adults. They can decide for themselves if they want to give this information. ... These kids cannot make the same decisions."

Although the school said the lesson isn't known to have taken place before, Bartus said she's spoken to other parents who claim the same lesson was given last year. 

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