KENNEWICK -- The Kennewick School Board took a small and cautious step toward giving gay-straight alliances more access to school campuses Wednesday.
Gay-straight alliances are student clubs that seek to provide safety from harassment or bullying at school to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth, who are disproportionately targeted.
Currently, there are no such clubs at any Kennewick school.
There are GSAs in Pasco and Richland schools.
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The clubs are not prohibited in Kennewick schools, but they don't have the same access to means of communication on campuses as do other clubs.
That inequality is against federal law, which is why the school board unanimously voted to develop a policy that treats all students clubs not related to curriculum the same. But the board couldn't agree on a temporary rule to bring school rules in line with the law until the new policy goes into effect in the fall.
After some discussion, the board delayed a vote on the temporary rule until its next meeting on March 23.
There are two clearly defined kinds of clubs -- those that directly relate to curriculum and those that don't. French and math clubs clearly do, for example. Pokemon and Ping-Pong clubs don't.
But in Kennewick, a decision was made some years ago to create two types of non-curricular clubs, said Superintendent Dave Bond at the meeting.
Clubs such as the chess club, Pokmon or Ping-Pong get access to the schools' bulletin boards and public-address systems. Others, including religious clubs such as Youth on Fire and nonreligious clubs such as GSAs, don't.
That was a big part of the reason why the GSA at Kamiakin High School failed, said board member Wendy London. Students simply didn't know it existed.
The federal Equal Access Act is clear, Bond said. If you have any noncurriculum student groups that meet on campus, you must allow any noncurriculum student group. And you have to be consistent within that category in terms of access to resources.
"Are we out of compliance (with the law) right now?" Bond said. "Yes, probably, in terms of access."
That means the board has few options going forward. It can get rid of all noncurricular clubs, which is highly unlikely.
Or it can allow all noncurricular clubs, which it basically does now, but must then give them all equal access.
That requirement, however, also would be satisfied by taking away access to the P.A. and bulletin board from all noncurricular student clubs.
Two board members suggested this as the temporary solution until new policy is written.
"Let's impose the most limiting option on all noncurricular clubs for now," board member Lynn Fielding said. "Let's move through this carefully."
Board member Heather Kintzley agreed with Fielding.
But the board's nonvoting student member sharply disagreed.
Akshai Baskaran is a member of Kennewick High School's Key Club, an off-shoot of Kiwanis International, in which students organize volunteers to clean up parks or collect canned food, for example.
"We'll have difficulties without the bulletin board," he said. "We won't get as many volunteers. This could impact a lot of people."
"We should be careful even if it's an inconvenience on the Key Club right now," Fielding said.
The board finally agreed to get advice from the high and middle school principals at the next board meeting and to decide on a temporary policy then.
-- The district will order 12 portable classrooms for next school year, at a cost of about $1 million, to accommodate expected enrollment increases.
-- Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; email@example.com