ACLU backs formation of Gay-Straight Alliance club

Kevin Wilson

With the Clovis Municipal Schools Board of Education set to meet today to review its student group policy, the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has weighed in.

The board meets at 5:30 p.m. at the administration building to review board policy that sets parameters for student clubs.

Discussion on the policies first began at a March 29 board meeting.

On the question of student clubs, Clovis is looking at two options:

• Limited open forum, which allows all clubs that meet a list of requirements.

• Closed forum, which allows only curricular clubs — clubs specifically tied to school curriculum.

The district’s current policy makes club approval a duty of the superintendent’s office. Superintendent Terry Myers said the goal of the review is to be evenhanded with all student clubs.

About 15 clubs, including a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club waiting on approval, would be impacted. Myers said the GSA club was not the reason the policy review process began.

“That is an untruth,” Myers said of any suggestion the GSA spurred the review.

The ACLU sent a letter to the school board regarding the matter. Myers said other than the first section that insinuated the board is targeting the GSA, the letter, “seemed to be a letter of encouragement” for the approach the board is taking.

In other correspondence, the ACLU has taken a different approach. In a release, state Executive Director Peter Simonson charged that if the district chooses a closed forum, it would do so to circumvent federal bans on viewpoint-based discrimination at the expense of other non-curricular clubs such as the chess club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, simply to stop formation of a GSA club.

“It is a shame that the Clovis school board would consider such drastic action, all just to prevent students from creating an open, safe place at school for (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) youth and straight allies to gather,” Simonson said. “LGBT students are often the targets of bullying and may have no other place where they feel accepted and supported. To deny them this support — while simultaneously denying every other student the opportunity to participate in other non-curricular clubs — is unjustifiable.”

Myers said such accusations are unfounded.

In its release, the ACLU said 3,000 such clubs exist throughout the country, and a 2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that students who attended schools with such groups were more likely to report feeling safe at school and less likely to report harassment based on perceived or actual sexual orientation.

A Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club was originally approved in the first week of March by CHS Principal Wayne Marshall. The approval was rescinded later, Marshall said, because he reviewed board policy and found that approval of new clubs falls to the superintendent.

The request to begin the GSA reached Myers’ desk on March 30.