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Gay-straight
alliance approved at Utah's Provo High

Gay-straight
alliance approved at Utah's Provo High

The Provo City School District is considering a new policy on school clubs following approval of a gay-straight alliance club at Provo High School in Utah. The club received approval last week, superintendent Randy Merrill said. At least one district board member questions whether such clubs should be allowed. Merrill said principal Sam Ray's questions about whether state and federal law allowed the clubs prompted the district to draft a policy similar to that of the Granite School District. It would require anyone who wants to form a club to apply to the district. Parental consent would be required for noncurricular clubs. The policy would not allow a club that is "deemed vulgar and/or lewd and therefore is inconsistent with the fundamental values of public education" or that "could subject students to harassment or persecution." A club application could be denied to "maintain boundaries of social appropriate behavior." "We did not have a district policy on clubs, so because of that we decided to find out what state guidelines were, talk to other districts, to get a policy together," said Greg Hudnall, director of student services. The proposed policy cites state law that allows school districts to prevent the formation of clubs that "involve human sexuality." The policy also would prohibit clubs that "advocate or approve sexual activity outside of marriage, or involve presentations in violation of laws or regulations governing sex education or privacy rights of individuals or families." Merrill said nothing in the proposed policy would prevent the Provo High club from forming, because the federal Equal Access Act allows such groups. The act requires that schools receiving federal funding and allowing noncurricular groups should treat all noncurricular clubs equally. Board of education vice president Sandy Packard said she thinks the policy would disallow the club. She said she hoped to get some legal clarification, because while state law does not appear to allow the club, the Equal Access Act protects it. "According to those parts of the policy which reflect state law, it doesn't seem to me that according to policy, we should be allowing gay clubs. We can't comply with both. It's a catch-22. I don't see how the federal and state laws are compatible," she said. Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Utah, said gay-straight alliances provide needed dialogue between gay and straight students. "These kids are not advocating for sexual activity," she said. "They are coming together as kids that have common concerns and common beliefs." She said the clubs are a forum to discuss acceptance: "What they are mostly concerned about is harassment and discrimination in schools. They are a place where the kids can come together and talk about being safe in schools. They're kids, and they're concerned about how to educate other kids about not harassing and discriminating against people because they're different." Provo High senior Kashi Medford, one of the students leading the effort to form the club, said, "We have actually a lot of sexual harassment in the school that you really don't notice until you sit down and think about it. It's not [the administration of] Provo High's fault. They're doing everything they can. It's just like commentary made by people. It's a lot of things you hear in the classrooms, locker rooms." The Salt Lake City School District banned all clubs in 1995 to prevent a gay-straight alliance from forming at East High School. After lawsuits and student protests, the district reversed its decision and allowed clubs in schools. (AP)

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