MARYSVILLE — A controversial policy proposal that would require parental consent for students to join clubs could see challenges in court, legal experts say.
Early this year, Marysville School Board members questioned a “safe space” club proposed at several district elementary schools. The clubs are a supportive space for LGBTQ students to hang out once a week before school, some teachers and counselors say.
But School Board member Connor Krebbs said such clubs fuel the feeling that schools are “trying to take initiative and responsibility away from parents as far as the involvement in our kids.”
As a result, the board proposed adding a parental consent requirement for students to join all school clubs, a move some say could lead to a potential court battle.
Krebbs said that he, board member Wade Rinehardt and interim Superintendent Chris Pearson met with the school district’s attorney, Duncan Fobes,when looking at ways to add more parental oversight in extracurricular activities. Krebbs said they were told the proposed policy will pass muster.
Others argue such policies are likely to be thrown out in court.
In 2006, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill requiring parental consent to join school clubs.
“To date, no parties have filed a lawsuit on the basis of the statute,” Kelly Sherrill Linkous, a legal researcher at George Washington University, wrote in 2015. “However, it is just a matter of time. The statute, for many reasons, is an unconstitutional violation of students’ First Amendment rights” and of the Equal Access Act.
The 1984 act cuts off federal funding if public secondary schools “deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”
Context is important, said Paul Castillo, Lambda Legal senior legal counsel and student rights strategist.
Affinity groups for LGBTQ students cannot be targeted or singled out, Castillo said. School districts may try to circumvent the law by enacting a neutral rule applying to all clubs, he said.
“The question becomes, what is the impetus for the policy change? What has motivated the policymakers introducing the parental permission?” he said. “And if it is to target a GSA, that certainly foreshadows whether or not a court would uphold the policy or find it unlawful under First Amendment or, for secondary school students, the Equal Access Act.”
Rinehardt said earlier this month the policy is not an attack on any one club. Rather, the discussions around the safe space club “prompted” board members to consider where policies “were lacking.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has opposed the policy. The change is unprecedented in the state, and it would “likely have a chilling effect on the ability of many extracurricular activities to be a safe place for many students,” said Katy Payne, a spokesperson for Reykdal.
“The youth don’t waive their First Amendment rights to speak for themselves and to be autonomous at the front door of the schoolhouse,” said Kendrick Washington, director of the policy advocacy group for the Washington ACLU.
Marysville School Board President Paul Galovin said board members have received a steady flow of letters from the community, both in support and opposition.
On May 16, directors voted 4-1 to revise the proposed policy so it is limited to students in elementary and middle schools and not high schools. Galovin said the policy will be discussed again in a May 31 executive session. The board is slated to vote on the policy June 6.
Members of Everett High School’s Gay Straight Alliance sent a letter to Marysville School Board members last week urging them to ditch the proposal.
“The policy could affect other GSA type groups that have safe spaces not only in Marysville, but in other districts,” students wrote in a statement to The Daily Herald. “Requiring students to get permission could out the student to a family member who may not be supportive. This goes against the purpose of a ‘safe space’ concept.”
Everett High’s GSA offers students a “safe space for socialization, discussion that educates on LGBTQIA+ issues and concepts, bonding and a place to go for help when issues arise,” they said.
Galovin said he feels like there’s a better use of the board’s time than examining this policy. He added, “It’s not contributing to us moving forward.”