The Hononegah School Board’s co-curricular committee decided Monday night to not support the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance Club at the high school.
It plans to recommend to the full School Board that it vote against the proposal when it meets in August.
The committee’s decision came in the face of tremendous community opposition to the proposal. The committee met three times on the issue in recent weeks but could not decide.
About 200 people packed one half of the Hononegah High School library as the board listened to emotional pleas for and against the proposal. English teacher Catherine Aubrecht made the suggestion for the club on behalf of students.
Committee members decided in a 5-2 vote that a club it approved this month — Promoting Awareness Creates Tolerance — could also meet the needs of gay students. The club was slashed during financial cuts in 2004 to improve the district’s financial picture.
Zachary DeVoe, who graduated from Hononegah last spring, told the committee he was subjected to ridicule and harassment while a student at the high school. DeVoe gave an impassioned speech in favor of the club. He was one of about 40 people who stood in support of it.
Board member Matt Kentner said he believed it was idealistic to think that one club could do away with hazing or other incidents of harassment that have continued since he was a high school student in the early 1980s. He said no to the new club. He called the GSA an "activist group" that could serve to further divide students and the community.
"If the stated goal of this group is to promote tolerance and acceptance, then you should be promoting tolerance and acceptance of every student in this school, not just the gay children, but the children who wear glasses and others," Kentner said.
Emotions ran high as older members of the audience and students faced off in groups after the committee went into closed session midway through the meeting to discuss possible litigation and other issues.
DeVoe weighed in afterward on the committee’s decision.
"Just like some board members feel GSA goes too far, I feel like PACT does not go far enough," he said. "To me, if they go through PACT, nothing is really going to change."
While the committee was in closed session, Mike Llewellyn of Rockton was involved in several lengthy discussions with students. He said he believes the committee made the right decision but now will face other hurdles.
The committee later revealed that it received a letter before the meeting from the ACLU. While it did not contain threats of legal action, Superintendent Randy Gross said, it did recommend for legal reasons that the board support formation of the GSA.
"I am sure they hate dealing with this subject with the sword of the ACLU dangling over its head," Llewellyn said. "What disturbed me most tonight is that the children most interested in the gay club seem to want to ignore all the dangers they are going to face if they pursue that lifestyle."
Staff writer Rob Baxter can be reached at 815-987-1369 or email@example.com.