High school approves two new student clubs

Donelle Pardee Whiting

Despite some general misgivings expressed by the Washington Community High School Board of Education president, two student groups were made official Monday night.

School board members approved the bylaws for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Before the vote on the Gay-Straight Alliance bylaws, Tim Custis said he would not support the club.

Custis said he could not approve the bylaws, thereby making the GSA a school sanctioned organization, after hearing what happened at a meeting.

“I can’t support this,” he added, not elaborating on what he heard.

The problem meeting involved a guest speaker.

Club vice president Chris Fehr, a senior, said comments were taken out of context, but he also would not elaborate on the specifics, saying only that the speaker addressed the issue of sexuality.

However, Custis said he did not think anything was taken out of context.

In previous meetings, the board tabled approving the club’s bylaws to take a closer look because everything did not seem to be in line.

“In reading the bylaws, the language creates questions,” board president Jim Gerkin said.

Gerkin referred to the club’s purpose as it is stated in the bylaws which reads, “The purpose of the Washington Community High School Gay-Straight Alliance is to encourage acceptance and tolerance within the diverse population of our school, promote pride in our community, create a safe environment for all students of Washington Community High School and educate the school community. It will seek to empower the students and address the isolation of gay, lesbian and transsexual youth as well as to address the concerns of heterosexual students or students who are questioning their sexuality.”

In response to questions about that paragraph, club president Amanda DeVore, a senior, said the club is there to support its members not convert anyone.

Gerkin said he was not against the club if the intent is to address bullying and let others know they are not alone.

Another question raised about how the club would go about helping students questioning their sexuality.

The concern was that students would not be getting help from qualified counselors.

Fehr said the club members would not take matters into their own hands.

“We would be sure students with questions about their sexuality get guidance from a qualified counselor,” he added.

At the beginning of the meeting, resident Jeff Vallosio said he wanted to repeat his encouragement that the board not approve the GSA.

He said he felt putting the school’s stamp of approval on the club would not be beneficial and the board would be making a mistake.

Last year, Vallosio said, the there was a big “hub bub” about the book “Middlesex” and how it was damaging to the students.

Following a parent’s complaint, the board took steps by creating a policy that would prevent a repeat of that occurrence, he added.

“Our district shouldn’t be condoning dangerous behavior. It should be finding ways to change that behavior,” Vallosio said, adding, “You wouldn’t approve a wine-tasting or drug-sampling club because you know those activities are harmful.”

With only one no vote, the board approved the GSA bylaws.

Before the unanimous approval of the other new club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, board member Louise Kanive asked if the school was protected from a possible lawsuit because of the issue of separation of church and state.

According to the FCA bylaws, the club’s purpose “is to give the students somewhere they can pray, sing and show their love for God. The hope is that they will find other students (who) believe in Jesus and will help them live a healthy Christian lifestyle. We also seek to help students realize it is OK to show people what you are really like and to let them accept you as you are.”

However, superintendent Dr. Jim Dunnan said the school administration can take steps to protect itself because of a new policy overseeing non-curriculum related clubs using school facilities.

The district now prohibits speech that is “obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, indecent or defamatory” and prohibits activities that would disrupt the school and school activities.

In addition, administration must approve on-student attendees or speakers (other than parents, guardians or sponsors) invited by a student group. Non-students must sign a statement agreeing to the terms of the policy.

Neither organization is in violation of the new governing policy.