Policy change could endanger student groups

Posted on 16 Mar 2006 at 10:32pm
By Dionne Walker – Associated Press

Chesterfield County officials consider limiting gay-straight alliances in schools

RICHMOND, Va. Chesterfield County schools will consider a policy change that could limit gay-straight student alliances.

The change in the language governing school extracurricular groups follows an incident last year in which a support group for gay students and their allies invited an author whose work some parents deemed inappropriate for high school students.

Changes to the current policy, adopted in 1988, will clarify the rights of student groups to school facilities under the federal Equal Access Act as well as setting stricter rules on the groups, explained schools spokesman Tim Bullis.

While gay-straight alliances are not singled out in the new policy, the new rules will block extracurricular groups linked to sexually explicit language.
The Capital Region Family Forum, a local branch of the Family Foundation, also is seeking to prohibit groups from referring students to outside organizations concerning sexuality or birth control, and to require parental notification before students can join any group that their schools offer.
Parents of Manchester High School students lashed out last year after learning an author of gay sex novels had been invited to speak to the school’s gay-straight alliance.

School officials later retracted the author’s invitation and began a comprehensive review of policies regarding school groups.

The new policy targets groups at odds with the school system’s policy of promoting abstinence, explained Stephanie Wyman, director of the family forum.

Members approached the school board in October about changing policies surrounding school groups.

“If gay-straight alliance clubs do nothing that violates the policy of abstinence they will not … be included,” said Wyman, who insisted the debate was about what’s appropriate in schools, not sexual orientation. “If they invited the editor of Hustler or Playboy, we would be having the same issue.”
The Family Foundation has made abolishing the alliances a key goal and plans to encourage other school systems to follow Chesterfield’s lead, Victoria Cobb, director, said.

“Where there are clubs that may run a risk of promoting sexual activity, we’re absolutely going to encourage our grassroots chapters to bring it to the attention of their school boards,” she said.

But broad restrictions on sexual speech could preclude frank talk about sexual orientation, specifically hurting gay-straight alliances, argued Kent Willis, head of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU leaders are weighing whether to pursue legal action against the school system should the policy if approved be used to block groups’ free speech, he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 17, 2006.

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