Kennewick School Board might rethink club policy

The Kennewick School Board may reopen discussions about a controversial policy on student clubs later this month.

Members of the school board this week asked to have the policy placed on the Sept. 28 agenda less than a month after unanimously approving the policy Aug. 17.

Policy 3560 sets limits for noncurricular student clubs, disallowing them from using school yearbooks, newspapers and the public address system for advertising or recruiting members, and from having paid advisers or access to Associated Student Body accounts.

The policy was the culmination of a yearlong discussion about what kind of access gay-straight alliances, or GSAs, would have in Kennewick schools, during which the district learned its policy of denying GSAs the same privileges as other noncurricular clubs like Key Club was against federal law.

The district had to treat all noncurricular clubs the same and opted to limit privileges for all noncurricular clubs -- ones that aren't tied to a particular class or subject.

The board's Aug. 18 decision left clubs such as Key Club and the National Honor Society in the crossfire, and without the privileges they say they need to exist.

School board President Dawn Adams told the Herald on Friday that she is open to revisiting the policy, but believes the board's motives for adopting it have been misrepresented, and that her decision was not driven by the presence -- or absence -- of GSA supporters in the audience.

"It is so inappropriate to be judged when the facts are not represented correctly," she said. "I'm focused on academic achievement for our students and I don't want disruptions. Noncurricular activities clearly are not school related. They shouldn't be disrupting academic focus. I have nothing against the gay and lesbian community. I am very supportive."

Lynn Fielding, the board member who suggested the policy's adoption on Aug. 18, said he also is open to revisiting the issue.

"I think we're going to look for a little more flexibility," he said.

Fielding declined to say where that flexibility might fall, but said he believes there's room for more discussion.

Adams said her desire to re-open discussions is not related to a petition on the website change.org that has generated nearly 3,000 signatures in support of GSAs in Kennewick schools.

"That, too, misrepresented the facts," she said of the petition.

The petition was started by Kennewick native Joshua Rumley, who now lives in Seattle, because he remembers the tough time he had as a gay student in Kennewick schools, and wants the atmosphere to be better for other students.

The policy also has been the subject of numerous letters to the editor printed in the Herald blasting the policy.

"I understand what they were trying to do by making it equal for all students, but looking at it there are some discrepancies in who the policy really serves," Rumley said. "Groups like cheer and dance club get an automatic exemption even though they're not a subject taught in high school. That's not fair."

Rumley was pleased to hear the board plans to revisit the policy.

"Next time they should make sure their own personal bigotry gets let out of the policy-making process," he said. "They're not here to serve themselves. They're here to serve the students."

Kylie Gallacher, a South-ridge High School senior, said she's one of the affected students. Her school's National Honor Society club voted to suspend its activities for the year Thursday because they couldn't advertise or recruit new members, or put on fundraisers without access to an ASB account.

"Kids were asking, 'When is this coming back?' " Gallacher said. "We're looking at each other saying, 'I don't think it is coming back.' "

Most students didn't know what happened to clubs that just aren't there now that students have returned to school, Gallacher said.

"I found out on Facebook," she said. "I told some people. Kids had no idea."

She said the club policy has made her want to be more aware of the role the school board plays in her day-to-day life at school.

"We're the students it's affecting, so we should know what's going on," she said.

She's especially sad to see National Honor Society get suspended because she's been working since seventh grade to get accepted.

But she also is concerned because clubs such as National Honor Society and Key Club have service emphases that give back to the community.

"It's honestly a real shame because Key Club and National Honor Society make a huge difference in many people's lives," Gallacher said.

Before the board can revisit the club policy on Sept. 28, it will have a discussion Wednesday to determine whether a majority of members want to discuss the issue again. If so, the policy will be on the Sept. 28 agenda, Adams said.