Controversial Clubs - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Education

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Posted: Monday, August 27, 2007 11:00 pm

With almost 3,000 students, it's hardly surprising Desert Vista High School has accumulated nearly 70 clubs and activities over its 11 years. It seems unimaginable, then, that a student would encounter difficulties finding their niche in such a sea of extra-curricular options, but senior Summer Garvin would argue otherwise. The 17-year-old transferred to Desert Vista from South High Community in Massachusetts this year. As the former president and founder of South High Community's Gay-Straight Alliance club, Garvin was surprised to learn there was no group even slightly related to GSA at Desert Vista. She teamed up with junior Airicka Lapre to begin the process of creating the club the first week of school, but said their idea seemed unacceptable to the administration. "I immediately encountered roadblocks and resistance from the staff," said Garvin, who admits she understands the political differences between the two states. "I was informed that I would have to go through the counseling office and create the group that way. That's not what we want; we don't need to be counseled." However, it is possible the administration's advice was misunderstood, as guidance counselors work with students and advise them how to organize a club in order for it to be consistent with the policies of both Tempe Union High School District and Desert Vista. "There was one specific counseler I told them to go to with this organization because I wanted to make sure someone could give them the information they need on how to start this specific club," Assistant Principal T.J. Snyder said. The policy to start any club at Desert Vista involves filling out a new club packet to introduce the purpose of the group, how it will benefit Desert Vista and the community. There must be at least 10 interested students and a staff sponsor. "Students can approach any staff member, but without a sponsor there cannot be a club," Snyder said. The effort to start a GSA at Desert Vista began two years ago. Lapre brought about the idea as a freshman, and said last year she presented a proposal for the club, accompanied by 20 student signatures and a staff sponsor. Snyder said the group did have a sponsor at first, but then the sponsor decided not to support the group. "They told me they didn't see the general purpose of the club," Lapre said. But both Garvin and Lapre feel strongly that not only Desert Vista, but the Ahwatukee Foothills community as a whole, would benefit from a GSA. "There are almost 3,000 students at Desert Vista, and considering that statistically speaking one in 10 people are gay, have same-sex attractions or behaviors, as many as 300 students could benefit from this group," Garvin said. "It holds a significant importance at school, for students to know they have people in school to go to for allies." Despite the initial reaction, Garvin and Lapre said they do not plan to stop promotion of a GSA at Desert Vista any time soon. Along with parental support, both said they have received nothing but positive feedback from peers, regardless of sexual orientation. Additionally, the GSA Network's Web site informs students "if an administrator is resistant to the GSA, let them know that forming a GSA club is protected under the Federal Equal Access Act." The Equal Access Act, a federal law passed in 1984 that applies to all public secondary schools that receive federal funding, states, "A secondary school that allows student-initiated non-curriculum-related clubs to meet on school grounds during lunch or after school cannot deny other non-curricular student groups access to the school or otherwise discriminate against the group due to content of the students' proposed discussions." TUHSD policy for student meetings does refer to the act, and states "student meetings may be held in the schools of the District under a 'limited open forum' as it applies to the Equal Access Act." According to this District policy, Garvin and Lapre can conduct meetings using Desert Vista facilities as long as such meetings are voluntary and student-initiated, there is no sponsorship by the District or District employees and they do not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities of the District. However, Snyder said there must be some type of supervision with any group meeting at Desert Vista for liability reasons. Corinne Frayer can be reached at (480) 898-7917 or cfrayer@aztrib.com.

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