MARYSVILLE, Wash. - There is controversy growing in a North Sound school district after a local school board began taking steps to require a parent’s prior approval to allow children to join all non-curriculum and co-curricular student clubs.
However, it is the language that is missing from proposed policy changes that could target LGBT youth, according to critics. The proposals have some parents and district staffers condemning the district.
The American Civil Liberties of Washington told FOX 13 News it did not believe any other school district in the state requires anything similar. Plus, requiring parents’ permission – especially for gay student alliances – could endanger young people not ready to come out to parents.
The school board proposed the changes on Monday.
While the interim Superintendent’s proposals do not include words like gay or lesbian, critics say requiring parents' approval would mean kids may have to out themselves to families, even if doing so places the student in danger.
"If you can’t stop, please stop serving in this role," said district parent and State Representative Emily Wicks during Monday’s public comment portion of the board meeting.
Wicks lambasted the board, insisting proposed changes endanger vulnerable youth.
"Stop working towards policy that harms children that don’t conform to gender expectations. Stop using school boards to pretend you are family-first when actions like this destroy families and put our youth at risk," she said.
The two policies in question are 2150, co-curricular programs and 2153, non-curriculum-related student groups. On the agenda, minor changes in language appeared as edits in red writing, but new for each include requirements that parents must consent prior to their kids joining clubs.
"For the parents, maybe this comes as a news flash, banning books about LGBT youth in schools, not allowing kids to attend clubs, is not going to make your child hetero[sexual]," said Kendrick Washington, the director of policy advocacy group at ACLU of Washington.
The board approved the first reading of changes Monday and defended their decisions.
"This could be a huge piece for any one child, but it's one small piece of how 10,000 students are reached," said board member Paul Falovin. "We really need to keep that in mind when we go through the process of evaluating what is important in our lives."
"Our parents should be involved with what our children do, there are no surprises or dangers to the student when they get home when things like that come out," said board member Keira Atchley.
Natasha Pohli, an 18-year-old student, says she goes to a private school where similar policies do not impact her. While she says she has gay friends her age, she worries requiring parent’s consent for gay youth to join student alliances could be harmful, even if inadvertently
"I think there’s lots of kids who should be able to talk to their parents," she said. "They can’t."
Part of the language included in the proposed policy changes claimed to have been recommended by the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA).
"The revisions to the attached policies are primarily "housekeeping" changes to update policy language in accordance with new state law or make corrections where needed."
"That is not accurate," Abigail Westbrook, Director of Policy and Legal services at WSSDA, told FOX 13 News during a telephone interview. "I can understand why it would be confusing for someone and would think this comes from WSSDA, but it didn’t, and I neither would I describe that edit as being a mere housekeeping edit."
In a statement from the Marysville School District communications office, Director Jodi Runyon told FOX 13 News, "Regarding the WSSDA language on the agenda - this is boilerplate language that we typically use on each agenda for policy work, especially those that are adopted directly from WSSDA with no language edits. This would not be the case for these policies and was an oversight on our part to have the statement about WSSDA on the agenda."
Each Marysville School Board member, including Interim Superintendent Dr. Chris Pearson, did not respond to multiple requests for comment requested by FOX 13 News.
The proposed changes may be discussed during the next board meeting on May 16.