SALISBURY, N.C. — When fall classes start, Rowan-Salisbury Schools will have a returning “student” joining its ranks. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education gave permission for Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs to meet, the Rowan Free Press reported.
During its July 10 meeting, the tension in the room became heightened by an “emotionally charged public comment period focused on the clashing perspectives of Christian fundamentalists and persons supporting the Gay-Straight Alliance after school support clubs.”
The Free Press added, “After public comment, a debate ensued between school board members on Policy 6-8, a set of Rowan-Salisbury School policies regarding non-curriculum afterschool clubs. Curriculum clubs are the Algebra Club, the French Club, and Young Nuclear Physicist’s club. Non-curriculum clubs are clubs such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Junior Civitans clubs, and the Gay-Straight Alliance clubs.” The policy was not changed and GSAs will continue to meet after school. The vote was 5-2 to remove restrictive language from the extracurricular policy. Other options were to reinsert prohibitive language which would make the board open for law suit, prohibit all clubs from functioning on school property and permit just school curricular clubs and not non-curricular ones which the county supports.
Because of the federal Equal Access Act, which states that there must be equal treatment for all student clubs, the board decided to allow the GSAs to continue to meet. If they had not, they would have laid themselves open to lawsuits. To exclude GSAs would have been a violation of equal access and all of the other clubs would have had to be ended.
Now, parental consent forms must be gathered prior to students attending after-school clubs resulting from an opt-in clause peppered into Policy 6-8.
In 2006, Flip Benham and Operation Save America, along with other community members, led the charge and complained to the Board of Education when students from South Rowan High School started a GSA. This resulted in the ban of sex-based student clubs throughout the system.
With the vote, the eight-year ban was finally lifted. the Salisbury Post reported that “the policy banned sexually-oriented clubs such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and urged students to talk about any emotional issues concerning sexuality with school guidance counselors.”
“Mike Clawson, founder of the Rowan-Salisbury PFLAG, or Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays, said the school board made the right decision, not only in the interest of Rowan-Salisbury students, but also to be in line with the law,” the Post added.
A GSA at North Rowan High School began in 2013, but was suspended when it was not in compliance with the law. In 2012, East Rowan High School started a club.
Ali Culp, a student who started the GSA at North Rowan, Clawson and Bob Johnsen, a North Rowan GSA staff adviser and social studies teacher, in addition to an attorney with a subcommittee of the school board to share why GSAs were so beneficial, citing student safety issues for one.
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