Irmo GSA stays put, with restrictions

IRMO, S.C. — The Gay/Straight Alliance at Irmo High School will be able to stay alive after the Lexington-Richland School District 5 board voted Monday to allow extra-curricular, student-initiated clubs. The clubs, including the GSA and such groups as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, will be considered non-school sponsored and will have new restrictions, including parental opt-out forms.

“For the first time in more than a month the Students of Irmo High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) can take a reprieve from the insanity that has ensued at their high school since Principal Eddie Walker announced his resignation,” read a statement from the Community United for All Youth, a coalition of various progressive and LGBT organizations spearheaded by Elke Kennedy’s Sean’s Last Wish.

The Carolinas-wide coalition includes Alliance For Full Acceptance, Faith In America, Harriet Hancock Community Center, Palmetto Umoja, PFLAG-Columbia, Sean’s Last Wish, the South Carolina Pride Movement, South Carolina Progressive Network and TransCarolina.

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The new policy requires students creating non-school sponsored clubs to request permission to form the organization at the beginning of every year. After Sept. 15 of each academic year no new clubs can be formed. The principal can’t deny the formation of the group based on its purpose or the content of its meeting, but can stop it from forming if he or she feels the group will “materially or substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school.” Other reasons for prohibiting the group include a principal’s belief that the club will discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, sex or disability; or that activity at the meetings will be unlawful or “promote unlawful activity.”

The new policy also prohibits groups from discussing or distributing material with “sexually explicit topics or information.”

While community members have lauded the board for not prohibiting the GSA and other clubs completely, they are still concerned about how parental opt-outs will impact students who might most need the GSA and LGBT-friendly support.

“While parents are not required to return the ‘opt-out’ forms, this option still subjects LGBT students and their straight allies who wish to join the GSA to a level of monitoring that will surely discourage participation by those students who need the support of a GSA the most,” the Community United for All Youth statement read. “Many LGBT folks will celebrate the defeat of parental permission slips, and it certainly reflects progress in the long march toward equality. The Community United for All Youth, however, remains steadfast in its opposition to this policy-not because of what it purports to do, but because of what it fails to do. This policy does not protect all students equally and was implemented in a direct attempt to discriminate against a specific group of students.”

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The policy also directs that its various restrictions and regulations should be “applied consistently to all non-curriculum-related clubs/organizations.” In other school districts with similar policies, such consistent enforcement has been lacking.

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Pick up the July 12 issue of Q-Notes for in-depth coverage of the Irmo GSA controversy and the new clubs policy.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.