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Superintendent
warns Utah school board against banning gay-straight club

Superintendent
warns Utah school board against banning gay-straight club

Provo City [Utah] School District superintendent Randy Merrill has warned the district's school board that trying to ban the new gay-straight alliance at Provo High School would get the district in legal trouble. "If you deny this particular club, you will go to court," he told the board of education at a study session Tuesday night. "You will. I promise you." As a result of the gay-straight alliance application, the district is considering a policy that would establish guidelines for clubs. Among other things, it would require parental consent for students to participate in extracurricular clubs. The board may vote on the policy at its November meeting. Provo High senior Kaisha Medford, who led the effort to found the alliance, said about 50 students have expressed interest in the club, which she said would be "a social place where people can go and know that they won't be picked on, where they're safe from harassment, from being bullied." Merrill said he might urge the teacher who has agreed to advise the club, Mary Theodosis, to carefully consider the responsibility. He said an educator who allows unlawful activities to go on during meetings could lose his or her teaching license. And a club that violates the new policy, if it is approved, could be dissolved. Theodosis said she got involved because she wanted to help troubled teens. "I think these kids are in a lot of trouble, and they need someone to help them," she said. She said she has heard from students that a hostile environment exists for gay and lesbian students on campus. "You hear all these nasty words being spoken around the school all the time," she said. "I think it's an awful thing to hear someone call you awful names, and somebody needs to say, 'Hey, stop that."' Gary Watts, the father of six children, two of whom he said are gay, spoke in support of the club at the regular board meeting. "We somehow need to create a situation where more information is available," he said. "I think having a gay-straight alliance in a school in Provo could be a catalyst to create a situation where students could get more information and learn to respect the differences and diversity that's out there," he said. Robyn Brimhall and her son, Craig, a Provo High senior, said they are concerned about the club forming and said students at the school do not support it. "I've been talking to a bunch of the student body, and I haven't talked to one kid yet who is for it," Craig Brimhall said. "I don't want that kind of thing associated with my school." He said he was worried about students who joined the club being targeted for violence. Provo resident Grant Misbach said the club would be so detrimental that "it'd be better to do away with all noncurricular clubs." The federal Equal Access Act, which was cosponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, 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. 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 the schools. (AP)

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