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Controversial clubs on campus

A Times Editorial
Published January 14, 2006

Those parents who want Hillsborough school officials to ban gay clubs on campus need a primer on the law, the real world and history. The Constitution and federal law bar school districts from banning clubs on the basis of politics, religion or other speech.

To their credit, Hillsborough officials have largely blunted the calls by some Christian activists to ban the Gay-Straight Alliances in place at a half-dozen county schools. These groups have the same right to associate as the dance, drama and chess clubs. Ironically, as school officials have pointed out, the only clubs that cause borderline concern are religious groups - which, as a result of conservative activists, have now caught public attention.

School officials responded to complaints by forming a task force to ensure that standards for creating and operating clubs are uniform countywide. That's reasonable. If anything, controversial clubs like Gay-Straight Alliances face more hoops than they should because of the latitude principals have to manage their campuses. Beyond constitutional guarantees, the federal Equal Access Act bars schools from treating clubs differently based on the "content of the speech" at club meetings. Newsome High School's principal allowed the gay-straight club but required parental permission, which is not required for other clubs. This exercise is a good opportunity to clear the legal air. These protections make it clear that critics cannot use the task force as cover to harass gay clubs into oblivion.

But school leaders also have a teachable moment. Elected board members should join the superintendent in pointing out how important the extracurricular experience is in preparing for college, adulthood and life. Having spent decades and billions of dollars to reverse the damage of segregation, we should know by now discrimination has no place in our society, certainly not in our school system.

[Last modified January 14, 2006, 01:38:14]

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