Sunday, March 3, 2013

PA school board votes against a GSA; Equality Pennsylvania says that's illegal; now school board members who nixed the club won't talk on camera

WHPTV in Harrisburg, Penn. reports that five of nine school board members in the Borough of Chambersburg have struck down the possibility of a Gay-Straight Alliance club forming at the high school there. Equality Pennsylvania says that's illegal.

     School board member Joan Smith voted in favor, all though at first she had reservations.
     “I'm sad it turned out the way it did but I'm sure there are going to be repercussions,” Smith told CBS 21.
     School board member Carl Barton voted against the club. By phone today he said the club wouldn't do enough to stop bullying.
     He went on to say that the board members are friends or related to some gay and lesbian people and that this wasn't an issue of moral values.
     ...We reached out to all of the school board members Friday, they either turned down all on camera interviews or did not respond to our calls.
     School Superintendent Joe Padasak told us he wasn't interested in speaking on camera. saying its old news now that the board made its decision.

Here's the statement from Equality Pennsylvania:

     For more than a decade, school districts across the country have instituted Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student organizations in their high schools to ensure a safe space for students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. The Chambersburg School Board has chosen to deny students that right.  Equality Pennsylvania asks the Board to reconsider that unfortunate earlier vote.
The School Board has a wonderful opportunity to let their LGBT students know that they don't have to wait until they get older to have a safe space to be themselves and that they can have it right now, at Chambersburg High School.  This is the Board’s chance to be a voice for equal access to a safe learning environment for all of their students.
     Under the federal Equal Access Act, public schools may not deny the ability of a Gay Straight Alliance to form if the school allows other extra-curricular student organizations to meet.  Federal Law mandates that any school that allows a non-academic student organization must allow students to organize a GSA.  In this case, Chambersburg is clearly not above the law.  The School Board must now do what is right by students morally and legally.
     Equality Pennsylvania strongly recommends that the Chambersburg School Board reconsider their decision on a Gay Straight Alliance at Chambersburg High School. Given the lack of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law in Pennsylvania, local School Districts are left on their own to ensure safe environments for LGBT students to learn and to be themselves. Equality Pennsylvania is hopeful that the members of the Chambersburg School Board will do the right thing and allow students to organize a GSA in their district.

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