Georgia Plans to Shed Light on After-School Activities
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In Georgia, lawmakers are trying to restrict access to school clubs. They want to require parental approval of extra curricular activities.
From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Rickey Bevington reports.
RICKEY BEVINGTON reporting:
White County, Georgia sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 80 miles north of Atlanta. Best known as the home of Cabbage Patch dolls, White County is rural, industrial, and largely conservative. It's not where you would expect to find a gay and lesbian support group. But on a recent morning, eight students from White County High School gathered at a local restaurant for their monthly meeting of PRIDE, or Peers Rising In Diversity Education.
Ms. KERRY PACER (Student, White County High School): We are going to try to get a logo, for like, the PRIDE club. Like, so, if anybody has any ideas, you know, sketch it down and bring it in. And...
BEVINGTON: Seventeen-year-old Kerry Pacer is a lesbian. Pacer started PRIDE because she was the target of homophobic bullying at her school. The club, she says, is a safe place for kids to talk about their sexual identity. Initially, Pacer says school officials resisted the idea.
Ms. PACER: I mean, at first they weren't really, they said no. And then we kept pushing and pushing and pushing. And they finally had to say yes, because of the laws and stuff.
BEVINGTON: White County High School agreed to let PRIDE meet because of the federal Equal Access Act. The law requires public schools to allow special interest groups to form and meet on campus. But two days later, the principal banned all non-academic clubs. Now, White County legislators are pushing a measure that would require every school to publish a list of its clubs. If parents don't like one, they can prohibit their child from joining it.
Republican Senator Nancy Schaefer represents parts of White County. She says the law has nothing to do with the gay club controversy there.
State Representative NANCY SCHAEFER (Republican, Georgia): Parents need to be on the scene. And parents need to be involved. And they need to know where their children are, and what club and organization they have joined.
BEVINGTON: A lot of people oppose the legislation. Parents say it's state interference in their business. Educators say the law would be a nightmare to administer. And gay rights proponents say it's a way to intimidate gay students and their supporters. Representative Karla Drenner is Georgia's only openly gay legislator.
State Representative KARLA DRENNER (Republican, Georgia): If it's a school sanctioned activity, and you are in a home where your daddy or your mom may kick you out because they think that you, you may be gay, or you may be hanging out with gay kids.
BEVINGTON: Drenner says the legislation is unnecessary, because parents already have the right to keep their child out of an activity. She says the bill is meant to force a conversation between teens and their parents--something not all gay teens will want to do. Senator Schaefer rejects the idea that her legislation targets gays.
State Rep. SCHAEFER: Well, they'll never stop arguing that, I'm sure, because they've been that way since the very beginning.
BEVINGTON: Professor Anne Dupre is an education law expert at the University of Georgia. Professor Dupre says the bill's only real effect would be to require schools to publish their list of clubs. If White County High School wants to prevent a gay-straight alliance, she says, it has taken the only legal step it can.
Professor ANNE DUPRE (Professor of Law, University of Georgia): If they decide that they're going to ban all non-curricular clubs, they have the power to do that. And indeed, if they don't want to have a particular club, that is the best way to avoid federal Equal Access Act problems. You just not, don't have any non-curricular clubs.
BEVINGTON: However, Dupre says the school would be breaking the law if it banned the clubs just to get rid of PRIDE. The American Civil Liberties Union says that is exactly what White County High School has done, and has filed a federal lawsuit charging the school district with discriminating against the members of PRIDE. White County School Superintendent Paul Shaw would not discuss the lawsuit. But regarding the legislation, Shaw says his school system will comply with whatever the state legislature decides.
For NPR News, I'm Rickey Bevington, in Atlanta.