School District has adopted a policy on school clubs that
does not ban the new Gay-Straight Alliance club at Provo
High. But the board also agreed Tuesday to ask the
state superintendent of education to seek an opinion
from the state attorney general about the merits of the
policy in regard to a state law that governs clubs in
schools. "We need to know if the attorney general is
prepared to take this Utah law to the state supreme
court," board member Darrell Alder said.
The law bans clubs that discuss human sexuality
and allows a club to be rejected when necessary to
"protect the physical, emotional, psychological, or
moral well-being of students and faculty."
The new policy requires parental permission for
noncurricular clubs and otherwise regulates all
on-campus clubs. Amendments made since the policy was
introduced at the October meeting include requiring advisers
assigned to clubs to attend every meeting to make sure
students don't discuss issues such as human sexuality
or advocate unlawful activities, which state law
forbids clubs to do.
Sandy Packard cast the dissenting vote against
the policy, and she said she thought the board was
going against the public's wishes and rushing the
vote. "The feedback I've been getting is, the majority of
parents are concerned that by allowing this club that
we are kind of giving a message of tacit approval to
the kids that we don't want to give to them," Packard
said. "It feels to me, if our decisions are so far
remote from what the majority of parents want for their
children, we are taking the public out of public
education. We need to stay in touch."
School officials have been advised that the
federal Equal Access Act, which was cosponsored by
Utah senator Orrin Hatch, requires any public
secondary school accepting federal funds to allow all school
clubs equal access to its facilities. It was aimed at
protecting student religious activities. They were
told the only way they could ban the alliance club
would be to ban all noncurricular clubs.
Provo High principal Sam Ray said about 30
students attended an informational meeting about the
club in October, but only about half showed up at a
second meeting after parental permission slips were
required to attend. "I've had kids there who I believe were
supporting their friends and peers." He reviewed the federal
and state laws governing clubs at schools with the
students and warned them that any discussions of
sexuality would cause the club to be disbanded, he said.
He said he told the students that "if
you're here to talk about the political agenda of gay
rights, service projects, that's fine. If you discuss
human sexuality, your club's finished," and he said they
Timpview High School principal George Bayles
said he has withheld approval of clubs at his school
pending the board's decision. More than 50 people
attended the meeting to voice their opinions about the
policy and the GSA.
Gary Watts of Provo, the father of a gay son and
a lesbian daughter, drew applause from the crowd when
he implored the board to do whatever they could to
help gays be accepted in the community. "Let's step up to
the plate and give these people a rightful place in our
community," he said. "Gay people do not choose to be
gay—they discover they're gay—so I plead
with the board to figure out ways to include gay people in
the school life, a way for them to find happiness and to
find acceptance in the community and not to be
ridiculed and judged against as they are in this community."
president of the Eagle Forum, urged the board to delay its
decision and speak with state senate president John
Valentine, who helped draft amendments to the state law.
Brooks Arvizu, a
member of a GSA at Utah Valley State College, told the
board that what goes on at club meetings is far less
sinister than what they might imagine. "We don't talk
about sex," he said. "It's a place where we can meet
and talk about acceptance and feel OK with who we are."
Stephen Graham of Pleasant Grove, president of
the Standard of Liberty foundation, urged the board to
ban the club. He said the district could be sued for
failing to protect students from harmful behavior.
"According to Utah law, schools have a right and
responsibility to protect students," he said.
"Implicitly and explicitly, a GSA promotes homosexual
behavior, which places adolescents at risk for mental
illness and sexual diseases—all as a direct
consequence of homosexual behavior." (AP)