The school board at Clovis, New Mexico, voted on Tuesday to ban all extra-curricular clubs from meeting during school hours or using school resources. The New Mexico branch of the ACLU says that this is suspicious as it comes right after a request was made to form a club in support of LGBT pupils.
Ahead of the vote, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school board. From the press release:
Today, ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith sent a letter to the Clovis School Board, urging that they not deny high school students the personal enrichment and opportunities provided by non-curricular clubs:
“Non-curricular activities are a vital part of any educational program and provide students with enriching and rewarding experiences. At Clovis High School, you have non-curricular service clubs, religious clubs, a chess club, and other similarly engaging groups. To simply discontinue these clubs would deprive all students of a rich and diverse set of activities to engage in outside of class. Eliminating these clubs would doubtlessly diminish the vibrancy of the high school community in Clovis.”
Under federal law, if public schools allow non-curricular clubs — such as Chess Club or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — they have created a limited open forum and must give equal access to any students who wish to form additional non-curricular clubs. Once this limited open forum is established, school officials may not discriminate against any club based on its viewpoint. However, some schools attempt an end run around this law by abolishing all student non-curricular clubs, blocking access to not only GSAs, but all other non-curricular clubs as well.
“It is a shame that Clovis the School Board would consider such drastic action, all just to prevent students from creating an open, safe place at school for LGBT youth and straight allies to gather,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “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.”
The high school board has denied that this was an attempt to prevent the gay-straight alliance.
From Pink News:
District superintendent Terry Myers told the Albuquerque Journal that the gay-straight alliance’s application did not trigger the ban.
“Being a new superintendent in Clovis, the board asked me to review each policy as it came up and make recommendations or at least bring those to their attention if there’s some question as to what the board truly wants with a particular policy,” he said.
“This was not prompted by a particular request.”
Members of the ACLU remain unconvinced, with Micah McCoy quoted as saying: “This sort of tactic has been used in the past by school districts to discourage gay-straight clubs from forming. A lot of alarm bells went off when we saw this.”
What is apparent in this case is that the denial of a gay-straight alliance at the school — for whatever reason — is a resounding shame.
Gay-Straight Alliances are student initiated and run clubs that aim to create safe and supportive environments for LGBT and straight ally children. They allow LGBT and questioning youths to talk to their straight-identifying peers and in this way the clubs can build understanding, tolerance and acceptance. They also provide spaces where issues like bullying can be raised and LGBTQ students can find support.
A 2009 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that GSAs appeared to have a direct impact on feelings of wellbeing for attendees and may reduce the likelihood of harassment because of LGBT identity. Without support groups, nearly 9 out of 10 kids reports anti-LGBT harassment in schools. Read more here.