Monday, February 08, 2016

Gay-Straight Alliance at rural Tenn. school draws criticism; local newspaper supports it editorially

Critics of a newly-formed Gay-Straight Alliance at a rural Tennessee high school say the club could open the door for other students to create terrorism groups, Brian Wilson reports for The (Nashville) Tennessean. Students at Franklin County High School said the group provides weekly meetings for all students to come together to talk about issues. Student Allie Faxon, who created the group, told Wilson, “We all have common troubles. By having the club, even people who aren’t out can come and have a place to be themselves.”

The club has drawn criticism from residents in the Southern Tennessee community, with a social media page created last month calling "for members of the Franklin County School Board to move the club off campus because of its controversial nature." Critics say clubs that discuss religion or sexuality should not be organized on school campus.

Local resident John Wimley, who organized a Facebook page in protest of the alliance, posted that if "a group like that could be admitted without community knowledge, one like 'Future ISIS Members of America' could be formed as well. His comment used the hashtag '#putgodinschoolsplease.'" Wimley, who said his comment "was misconstrued by others who believe he was comparing the GSA to ISIS," told Wilson, “Maybe it was a mistake. But it was a statement that needed to be made.”

At least two people have filed paperwork to speak at tonight's meeting of the Franklin County School Board, which GSA advocates and critics, including the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, are expected to attend, Wilson writes.

Franklin County, Tenn. (Wikipedia map)
The club, which, is holding a rally before tonight's meeting, "is in compliance with the Equal Access Act of 1984," Brian Justice, editor of the local Winchester Herald Chronicle, writes in an editorial supporting the rally. The law, sought by Christian groups that wanted students to be able to hold Bible study groups during lunch and after school, "passed in 1984 to compel federally funded secondary schools to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs," Justice notes.

"The act provides that if a school receives federal aid and has a 'limited open forum,' or at least one student-led non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, it must allow additional such clubs to be organized and must give them equal access to meeting spaces and school publications," Justice writes for the Lakeway Publishers twice-weekly. "Exceptions can be made for groups that 'materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school,' and a school can technically 'opt out' of the act by prohibiting all non-curriculum clubs."

Dr. Amie Lonas, Franklin County Schools director, told Justice, "We have been advised by legal counsel not to deny the club the right to meet if they followed the board policy for establishment. If we choose not to allow this club to be established, then we would be required to prohibit all non-curriculum clubs or give up federal funding. All clubs meet outside the instructional hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and attendance is voluntary for students."

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