KENNEWICK -- The mood outside of the Kennewick School Board meeting Wednesday was mostly celebratory as nearly 200 people filtered out following a reversal of the district's controversial policy limiting noncurricular clubs' access to school resources.
The board voted 3-1 to restore access for noncurricular clubs to school newspapers, public address systems, yearbooks and Associated Student Body accounts, but not paid advisers.
Board member Kathleen White voted no because she wanted the policy to give discretion to school principals whether a given club should have a paid adviser.
Board member Lynn Fielding, who in August introduced the policy the board reversed Wednesday, was absent from the meeting.
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The board on Aug. 18 approved a policy that kept noncurricular student clubs from using school yearbooks, newspapers and the public address system to let students know about club activities.
The policy also kept the clubs from having paid advisers or access to ASB accounts.
The policy was the result of discussions about federal requirements that all noncurricular clubs have equal access to school resources.
The board discovered that while talking about how to better provide for gay-straight alliances in Kennewick schools that the district had been in violation of federal law by granting different levels of access to school facilities to various student clubs.
The new policy brought the district in line with federal rules -- by limiting all noncurricular clubs equally.
The board has come under fire by community members who believe the move was an attempt to prevent gay-straight alliances by making it all but impossible for them to operate.
But the decision also took away privileges from student clubs who organize volunteer food drives and recognize academic achievement, for example.
Board members on Wednesday said they hadn't foreseen the consequences noncurricular clubs would experience because of the August vote.
"My daughter is a sophomore at Kamiakin and said, 'I cannot believe you guys killed Swing Club,' " said board member Brian Brooks. "It was not my intent to kill Swing Club."
Board President Dawn Adams said that in the era of communication through Facebook, she didn't think students used the public address system, and didn't think student clubs were in the yearbook anyway -- until she looked through some yearbooks after the Aug. 18 vote.
"The things we voted on were things I thought were already in practice," she said. "I had no idea all those (club) pictures were in the yearbook, and I really don't give a rip if we continue those practices. Take your pictures."
Board members were emphatic they did not oppose gay-straight alliances in Kennewick schools.
"This has never been about the GSA," said board member Heather Kintzley. "This is about the law. ... I felt terrible about the reaction from the community and the way it was portrayed."
White said she voted to restrict noncurricular clubs at the Aug. 18 meeting because she got confused by parliamentary procedure and was unclear about exactly what vote the board was being asked to take.
"I emailed Dave Bond the next day and said I wanted to change my vote," she said. "I wish I had paid more attention in (August)."
Before the vote Wednesday, the board heard from several of the about 200 people who attended the meeting.
The board moved the clubs policy discussion to the first item on its agenda so the audience could hear that the board was planning a reversal before commenting.
Most people who spoke supported the reversal, but one was vehemently opposed and thought board members should consult Jesus Christ before making decisions.
"I am asking the board, 'Who is your authority?' " said Karl Knudsen of West Richland. "Do you make feelings-based decisions, or consult experts, or Jesus Christ your savior? ... It is time to stand behind biblical authority."
And in his view, the biblical decision would be to disallow gay-straight alliances.
"I am against the GSA and the homosexual lifestyle," he said. "Because I care for people, I do not want to see them led down a deadly path."
But numerous other speakers defended gay-straight alliances as places where gay students -- who often are subject to bullying -- can feel safe and welcome.
Southridge senior Matthew Ener also disagreed with Knudsen.
"This is not a matter of the GSA; this is not a matter of the Bible, but a matter of the freedoms and liberties that should be provided to all students," he said.
Parent Jeff Benedict said gay-straight alliances -- and all noncurricular clubs -- give students a chance to come together and find common ground.
He noted that he serves in the Army National Guard, which recently abolished the "don't ask, don't tell" policy limiting people who are openly gay from serving in the military.
"If we can do it, I'm pretty sure the young impressionable minds here can do it," he said.