- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Rights of the father considered in Elian case

I always love Jonetta Rose Barras' columns particularly when I don't agree with them. When I do find myself disagreeing with her, I know I have to have good, coherent reasons for doing so because her reasoning is always sound, and her opinions are obviously heartfelt. So, I am writing to give reasons why I disagree wholeheartedly with her April 28 Op-Ed column, "Cuban dads count."

My father was killed in an automobile accident when I was 5, and my mother never remarried. And, yes, that loss still affects everything I do. From one who has experienced fatherlessness I, like Miss Barras, know firsthand that having both loving parents is essential to any child's well-being. We do not need all the evidence she cites to know that. Yet, I look at the same evidence she does in the case of Elian Gonzalez and draw a different conclusion.

This is not just a custody case. If it were, no decent person could oppose Elian's father's gaining custody without evidence of abuse or neglect. Rather, the real issue is Elian's welfare, as it should be in all child custody cases. Will Elian be better off here, in a democratic republic with relatives, or in a communist dictatorship where he will be owned by the state, with his father as nominal guardian? Because he has family here in the United States and because his mother gave her life to save him from state ownership, he would be much better off here, with or without his father. Accusing those of us who believe this of wanting to "strip Elian of his father and his childhood" is a low blow that is beneath Miss Barras' normally high standards. The ideal solution would be for his father and his new family to join Elian in liberty here in America. Miss Barras should know that those of us who want Elian to be free have his best interest at heart.

If Elian returns to Cuba, we know, through that government's own words, that the first order of business will be Elian's "re-education." We also know from the testimony of many Cuban expatriates that Elian can look forward to a lifetime of state servitude, starting at the tender age of 11. Can Miss Barras really convince herself that state ownership will be any kind of balm to a 6-year-old who has just tragically lost his mother?

We cannot know what Juan Miguel Gonzalez really wants for his child. He and his new family are surrounded constantly by guards, and his parents are still back in Cuba, reportedly as guests of Cuban President Fidel Castro. To believe that we know what Mr. Gonzalez wants is merely conceit. If Mr. Gonzalez loves the boy and wants him to return to Cuba, it is not in the boy's best interest to do so.

I recognize that Elian's Miami family is rabid in its anti-Castro fervor, but perhaps there is reason for it. The man is a butcher and has oppressed the Cuban people for more than 40 years. Besides, much of the behavior Miss Barras attributes to the family has been observable only outside the home, not in it, and only by demonstrators. Just because these family members are strongly opposed to a form of government and a dictator who imposes tyranny on a people should not disqualify them or prevent them from being a decent, loving family particularly with their knowledge of the Cuban government.

DAVID ANDREW HORTON

Columbia, Md.

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I want to applaud Jonetta Rose Barras for her insight regarding the plight of divorced and single fathers in the United States. Miss Barras hit the nail on the head when she wrote, "those who share [the National Organization for Women's] view of fathers as superfluous do not understand the powerful influence of these men on our lives."

Our nation suffers an epidemic of family court judges who openly share NOW's misconceptions and agenda. Fathers' parental rights are being disposed of on a daily basis (except, of course when it comes to their wallets, which are anything but nonessential).

Lest there be any doubt that an assault on fatherhood is taking place, look no further than the Elian Gonzalez saga. It took the combined weight of the Department of Justice, U.S. marshals and the president of the United States for Elian's father to be granted custody of his son, even after Elian's mother was dead. How hard do you suppose it is for any other dad to get a fair shake from the family courts?

RICHARD SCANLON

Duxbury, Mass.

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As a father who has fought and continues to fight for his parental rights, I find it refreshing to read a column supporting the need of a child and father to be together. It is nice to know there are women such as Jonetta Rose Barras who understand and endorse the importance of a father to be in his children's lives.

Too often, organizations, including the National Organization for Women and others, have government support to destroy men and the family unit to satisfy their own self-serving agenda.

I thank The Washington Times for printing the column and offer a sincere thank you to Miss Barras for taking the time and effort to write it.

DAN THOMAS

Raleigh, N.C.

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I want to commend Jonetta Rose Barras on a wonderful column. For the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would want to deprive Elian of his father. I could understand if Juan Miguel Gonzalez were abusive, but evidence shows he was a wonderful and loving father. From the pictures of their reunion, it is clear that Elian loves his father with all his heart. I think the Cuban Americans in Miami who tried to keep Elian away from his father have lost all credibility.

KAREN FLETCHER

Raleigh, N.C.

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Thank you for having the courage to print a column supporting fathers. With all the male-bashing going on, it was a relief to see a column showing dads are important.

GREG WALLER

Binghamton, N.Y.

Charter school bill gets stuck in legislative quicksand

For the second year in a row, public school legislation passed the Maryland House of Delegates by a substantial vote only to die in the Senate. This legislation, which enjoys bipartisan sponsorship in the House, would allow Maryland to join 37 other states in qualifying for the more than $100 million available in federal start-up funds for public charter schools. Both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have expressed their strong support for public charter schools.

Proponents had hoped that this year, with the support and advocacy of Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, the legislation would pass both houses of state government. The long-held views of some teacher-legislators regarding a perceived threat of charter schools to traditional public schools and the unrelated issue of state funding of textbooks for nonpublic schools may have contributed to the bill's demise in the Senate this year.

While the charter-school movement is booming nationwide and is having significant positive impacts on education, Maryland has been mired in a state of inertia, unwilling to encourage competition and innovation that could stimulate improved academic achievement for our state's disadvantaged youngsters.

This is especially relevant in Baltimore, where three schools have been reconstituted by the state to be run by a private entity, the Edison Corp., under a management-performance contract. It would be far more preferable to have these charter schools created with parent, community and teacher input than to have them imposed upon communities only after they have been taken over by the state.

According to the Department of Education, seven out of 10 charter schools have waiting lists for students. Median enrollment at charter schools is 137 students, compared with 475 students at public schools in the same states. We will not have a golden age of public education in Maryland until we take action to encourage the creation of public charter schools that can offer real promise to reduce class size, provide rigorous curricula and significantly improve student achievement.

JOHN R. LEOPOLD

Delegate, Anne Arundel County

Maryland House of Delegates

Annapolis

John R. Leopold sponsored the charter school bill the past two years.

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