Gay Straight Alliance prompts debate

  • Tuesday, February 1, 2011

School board member Barbara Crosby at Monday’s meeting.

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Board votes to keep clubs non-curricular

School clubs in Dorchester District 2 will remain non-curricular.
Two motions in regard to making clubs curricular failed to receive a majority vote by the school board at Monday’s well-attended meeting in Summerville.
The issue became controversial due to the foundation of a Gay Straight Alliance at Summerville High School and Fort Dorchester High School. The club is non-curricular and has 30 members at SHS and 13 at FDHS, according to information gathered by Director of High Schools Kenneth Wilson.
The four citizens who spoke during public comments spoke in favor of non-curricular clubs.
There are currently 28 clubs at SHS, 13 of which are non-curricular.
FDHS has 35 clubs, 13 of which are non-curricular – including Zombie Appreciation, Video Game, Prom Committee and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Ashely Ridge High School has 32 clubs and 17 are non-curricular.
Board member Charlie Stoudenmire said clubs should be curriculum-oriented and not for pursing personal identity.
Stoudenmire made a motion for the district to only authorize curriculum-oriented clubs in DD2 schools. Board member Barbara Crosby seconded the motion.
Stoudenmire and Crosby voted in favor of the motion. Board member Gail Hughes abstained from voting. Board members Tanya Robinson, Frances Townsend, Bo Blanton and Lisa Tupper voted against the motion.
Crosby read from the state code of laws and the DD2 policy that gives school boards authority to regulate and prohibit clubs.
“I see huge benefits in non-academic clubs,” Townsend said. “Some of the greatest benefits students get from school is in non-academic clubs.
“Our principals have the professionalism, the wisdom to deal with the clubs that are in their own schools and I don’t think the board needs to get involved.”
Hughes asked several times for a definition of academic clubs.
“If it’s curriculum, it’s what we teach,” Crosby said.
“Citizenship is not on the PASS test,” Tupper said.
Stoudenmire said academic clubs are related directly to the content of what is taught in schools, such as German, French and science clubs.
“Not only do we teach reading, writing and arithmetic, but we also teach how do we deal with the world in general,” Hughes said. “I’m thinking about the Habitat For Humanity Club.”
“Over half of the clubs in our high schools would be eliminated,” Townsend said.
“Student Council and the Leadership Club – those are non-curricular,” Robinson said. “They are an asset to the students and the school.”
Non-academic clubs like Student Council and National Honors Society enrich high school life, FDHS Principal Elena Furnari said.
“Another thing I’d add about clubs is the more restrictive the language on it then the fewer opportunities there are for students,” SHS Principal Roger Edwards said. “The policies are written vaguely on purpose to give you some latitude.”
“We need to look at the policy and get a better understanding of what we’re looking at,” Hughes said.
Hughes made a motion to send Policy JJA and JJAB to the board’s policy committee for review. Crosby seconded. The motion failed because it did not receive a majority vote.
Students in areas without after school clubs have a 6.3 percent higher suicide and homicide rate, SHS 10th-grader Billy Thompson said during public comments.
Thompson, 15, founded the SHS Gay Straight Alliance and said it has reduced bullying and improved the school environment.
Thompson said he started the alliance last year because students need a lot of support.
“It’s not detrimental,” he said. “Choose what you want. It’s not limited to gays and lesbians alone.”
Thompson said the alliance is also involved with community service projects. He said he’s happy with the club’s progress so far.
“I just cannot tolerate injustice,” said Summerville resident Susen Sharpio, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I have gay friends. There is nothing of a lifestyle. It’s just how they are.
“As long as the club meets all the requirements it should be allowed.”
Kent Robinson, husband of a board member, said it’s important to have clubs that aren’t strictly academic but clubs should have a purpose and be supervised.
“I want to point out to anyone that may have consternation about other types of clubs – being gay and lesbian students or a secular humanist club or a Muslim club – that we also have clubs that cater to Evangelical Christian interests,” Katherine Eastvold said.
She added Summerville Elementary School has Good News Club run by people from churches that talks to children about Christian principles.
She said the proposed policy would allow people who are in the majority with their views to have the kind of clubs they want to have and say what they want to say.
“It’s sounds like you’ve decided you’re going to be fair,” she said. “It’s either all or nothing.”

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