Gay-Straight Alliance Appeals to Neenah Board for Club Status
High School Principal Says District Policy Bars Groups with Political Goal
[NEENAH, WI] - Students who have formed a "gay-straight alliance" at Neenah High School appealed to the school board Tuesday for formal recognition as a noncurricular club, a status that was denied last month.
More than 50 students, former students, parents and teachers lobbied the Board of Education for acceptance of the group, which they said would help gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students feel valued and respected.
"This is something all of our kids need, gay or straight," said Marcia Macdonald, a Neenah teacher and mother of a homosexual child.
The school board did not respond to the comments.
Andy Sampson, one of the leaders of the NHS Gay-Straight Alliance, said the group wants the same privileges granted to other noncurricular clubs. That includes acknowledgement in the high school yearbook, the use of school media for announcements and the sponsorship of social events like a dance or a battle of the bands.
"We want to be able to sponsor those types of events with the school behind us," he said.
Principal Mark Duerwaechter said the NHS Gay-Straight Alliance was denied club status in accordance with a school district policy that prohibits school sponsorship of any religious, political or philosophical group.
"Based upon the literature you have given me and independent research into the background of the GSA, the GSA is indeed a group with a political and philosophical goal and agenda," Duerwaechter said in a letter to Sampson.
Duerwaechter also said Neenah High School already has a club - Students, Teachers and Staff Advocating Neenah's Diversity (STAND) - that strives to achieve tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity, including sexual orientation.
Sampson said the NHS Gay-Straight Alliance has no political agenda. He said its mission is educational.
"Since homophobia and heterosexism undermine a healthy school climate, we work to educate teachers, students and the community about the damaging effects these forces have on youth and adults alike," he said.
Sampson also disagreed with Duerwaechter's contention that STAND can address gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender concerns.
"Asking for all diverse issues to be dealt with in one group is like asking all the sports teams to practice together," he said. "They all fall in the category of athletics, but they have different needs."
Macdonald said the denial of club status might have violated the federal Equal Access Act, particularly if the high school continues to recognize other no curricular clubs, like the Key Club or Chess Club.
School administrators said they are complying with the Equal Access Act by granting the group access to the school for weekly meetings before or after the instructional day.