By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
GROVE CITY —
A student plans to ask school directors for approval to start a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network at Grove City Area High School.
The student wasn’t able to address the board at Monday’s work session because she fell ill – but will publicly address directors at their first meeting in February.
Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf said the bright student spoke to him about her feeling that the board didn’t support kids who believe they are gay – and wanted to talk to directors.
The student reads the Allied News, and saw recent stories about residents who for months have approached the board concerned about the term “sexual orientation” being added to district harassment policies now under review.
The board has been updating its policies and procedures manual with the guidance of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which advised adding sexual orientation and other classifications – like social status and economic circumstances – in harassment policies.
Mextorf said he had to enlighten the student because she mistook the board discussions as being anti-gay.
Director Vern Saylor would like to meet the girl to let her know that the board supports all students; her belief that they didn’t troubled him, he said.
In her absence, the student presented a statement read by high school business teacher Hailee Maidrano who agreed to be the adviser for the GSA club, with secondary adviser and school counselor Vickey Rainey, if it was approved by the board.
The student’s letter stated: “It’s crucial to have our LGBT students know they are not alone and have support from their peers and instructors ... to know there’s a safe space in this school and in the classrooms ... I believe (GSA) will help teens who feel they are excluded from the world to know ... there are people in this world willing to stand by them and fight for their rights. This group has been created in schools all over the nation and has been extremely effective in neighboring districts ...
“As more and more students are coming out of the closet, it’s important they feel welcome here to grow and fulfill their potential ... High school is a major part of development in a teen’s life, and if that teen doesn’t feel wanted, appreciated or love, it may lead to depression or worse, suicide. ... If we eliminate homophobia and transphobia, our school will be known as a safer school with less bullying. It will prove the school is serious about all types of students being welcome here.”
Mextorf said clubs don’t meet on school time and teachers are not paid to be advisers.
“My problem is going on the website of the Gay-Straight Alliance and seeing sponsorships of other activities,” said director Roberta Hensel, adding after the meeting that she was concerned about links to sexual sites that could sway kids or make them targets of predators.
The GSA site has a community directory that allows anyone to list information, like a hotline and website for San Francisco Sex Information that gives sex advice to youths like losing one’s virginity and pregnancy – and links to fringe sexual practices like bestiality, multiple partners and fetishes.
Parent Carolyn Oppenheimer said if the school board approved the GSA club, it would be “indirectly promoting homosexual behavior and that really isn’t the job of the school district,” she said.
Scott Somora said the district could give a meeting place for the GSA club but the sexual orientation term should be left out of the harassment policies when it isn’t federally mandated or legally required, he said.
“The language opens it up and says ‘Okay, there’s another group that wants a protected class in our policy manual.’ But if we have a club, that’s fine. At least here it gives them some support with advisers,” Somora said.
Director William Reznor believed the sexual orientation term in the policies would “cover us,” he said. “We wouldn’t necessarily need that club.”
Reznor appreciated the student’s sincerity, “but it’s my fear if we start making these concessions, then when does it stop?” he said. “We open up for more and more folks coming forward, and every letter we get there’s someone who feels as though they aren’t treated fairly and wants to start a club.”
Director Heather Baker agreed with Reznor; however, she added her concern that bullies could target the club as well.
Parent John Lambert said that current policies against bullying covered all students, and adding “sexual orientation” is a protected classification is redundant and opens the district to more problems.
He and other concerned parents have presented articles about the term being added in policies as a gateway to organizations pushing radical gay politics in schools – and silencing any opposition to their agendas by calling it bullying or harassment. Such silencing has resulted in successful lawsuits in Pennsylvania.
Since sexual orientation isn’t a federally mandated protected class – the district could be sued, the concerned group warns. Lambert said over 60 residents have signed a petition against having the term in the policies, but he and the others who have repeatedly addressed the board on the matter were disheartened that the board failed to answer them.
Director Adam Renick responded, stating that he had no issue with the language in the harassment policies.
Solicitor Tim McNickle re-examined the legal wording in the policies, which Mextorf presented Monday.
McNickle made the language for harassment “based more on effect, not intent,” Mextorf said. A student or teacher would have to give proof that alleged harassment had substantially affected them for it to be taken seriously by the district, he explained after the meeting.
The harassment policies not only apply to sexual orientation but all classifications, both federally and non-federally regulated.
A related discussion was held about giving federal background checks to volunteers. Volunteers have to get only state background checks; teachers must have both state and federal checks.
With the logistics and costs, Mextorf offered that volunteers not originally from Pennsylvania will now need a federal check. There are 80 volunteers this school year, he added.
Wording changes for the harassment and volunteer policies will be sent to PSBA to be updated in the district’s policies and procedures manual, which will be adopted at next week’s business meeting.
However, those policies will not be voted upon with the larger volume until they are resolved.
Published Jan. 18, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.