Provo schools could allow gay-straight clubs

Published October 12, 2005 12:28 am
Comment sought: A proposed policy change would set new rules for formation of noncurriculum organizations
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PROVO - The Provo City School District proposed creating a new student-club policy in response to a request at Provo High School to start a gay/straight alliance club.

The board is looking to model its policy after the one currently in place at Granite School District.

"The policy applies to all curriculum and noncurriculum clubs. It is not targeting anyone," said Shannon Poulsen, Provo Board of Education president.

The board is asking for public comment, and then it will decide whether to pass the policy at its November meeting.

The policy would mandate parental permission to join clubs, faculty oversight and that all clubs follow federal and state laws and guidelines.

The federal law states that students' political speech cannot be limited, but Utah state law requires that students do not discuss or promote any sexual activities except within marriage.

"It's not about sex, it's just not about sex," said senior Kaisha Medford, who is spearheading creating the club. "It's a place where we can be accepted regardless of our race, gender, sexual orientation or if we're Mormon or not."

Such an idea appeals to Gary and Millie Watts, who have raised six Provo High School graduates, two of whom are gay.

"In high school, our children didn't realize they were gay, but they were questioning themselves, and they were in a state of isolation; it was extremely lonely for them. I feel very bad about their experience in high school," Gary Watts said.

He hopes to fix that experience for current high schoolers by adding "respect" to the typical reading, writing and arithmetic learned in schools.

"Allowing a gay/straight alliance club at Provo High School could be the catalyst for gathering information about respecting differences," he said.

The only way for the district to deny the club its charter is to close all noncurriculum clubs, which are those clubs not directly related to a class. Curriculum clubs, such as the French club, are class- room-related.

Salt Lake City School District closed all noncurriculum clubs after a student attempted to start a similar club at East High in the late '90s, but the district eventually allowed noncurriculum clubs because of public pressure.

The Provo board did not support closing all noncurriculum clubs.

"Each controversial club will test your mettle if you want an open forum or not," said Provo Superintendent Randall Merrill.

The district will decide on the policy at its Nov. 8 meeting at 7 p.m. at 280 W. 940 North in Provo. To view the policy and comment on it, visit http://www .provo.edu.

The rules:

Distinguishes between curriculum and noncurriculum clubs.

Recognizes that district secondary schools have limited open forums that allow nondisruptive student speech.

States that noncurriculum clubs are student-initiated and their meetings, ideas and activities are not sponsored or endorsed by the district or school in any way.

Requires faculty oversight to make sure the activities of the club do not violate state or federal law.

Requires parent permission for noncurriculum clubs.

Requires that clubs reapply every year.

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