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Provo district
adopts policy on gay clubs

Provo district
adopts policy on gay clubs

Utah's Provo 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 understood it. 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."

Gayle Ruzika, 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)

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