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South Carolina High School Principal Resigns Over Gay-Straight Alliance

Irmo, SC

 
On May 21, 2008 the principal of Irmo High School announced his resignation in protest of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club forming on campus. His resignation caused uproar from students who plan to join the club, community members, and national gay rights organizations. 
 
The principal approved the GSA on May 15th because of a federal law that obliged him to do so. A statement issued by the Lexington-Richland School District 5 says, “The Equal Access Act does not permit the school to discriminate against a club based on the club’s purpose and viewpoint by not allowing it to form unless the purpose of the club is unlawful.”[1] The Equal Access Act, passed in 1984, was originally championed by Christian conservatives who wanted to secure the rights of Christian clubs to meet on school premises. In recent years, courts have found that it grants these same rights to GSAs.
 
A week later, the principal announced his resignation in a letter to the community. He explained that the club conflicts with his beliefs and went on to say, “I feel the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance club at Irmo High school implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes.”[2] Although he announced his resignation, the principal plans to remain with the school through the 2008–2009 school year and officially resign in June of 2009.
 
The community was divided in its response to his announcement. Some felt the principal was out of line. South Caroline Equality, a gay rights group in the state, called for him to be terminated immediately, saying, “The principal has emphatically and publicly stated that he does not support a significant portion of his student body…Everyday that this Principal remains at Irmo High, students will continue to live in fear for their safety. These unsafe and dangerous conditions for gay students are intolerable.”[3] Potential members of the GSA held a rally outside of the district school board meeting to call for an earlier resignation.[4] The most passionate supporter was a parent who lost her 20-year-old son in 2007 to a violent crime when he was targeted because he was gay. She said that the GSA is a support system that the students may not otherwise have.[5]
 
Many community members, however, supported the principal in his opposition to the GSA. The school board met to further discuss the club and the overwhelming majority of people who spoke at the meeting defended the principal. In addition, some community members, teachers, parents, and students held a prayer vigil to support him.[6]
 
At the meeting, the board approved a policy that says, “school employees cannot promote, lead, or participate in meetings of [‘non-curriculum’-related] club activities,” and that “the principal could deny the use of school facilities for such clubs if it is determined that they disrupt the orderly conduct of educational activities.”[7] The board met again in June 2008 and confirmed that they would allow the GSA, but voted to give parents the right to prohibit their child from participating in any club. The board also voted to ban school clubs from discussing “sexually explicit topics” to keep with the district’s abstinence-only-until-marriage policy.[8]
 


[1] Logan Smith, “Irmo High Principal Announces Resignation over Gay-Straight Alliance,” WIS News 10, 2 June 2008, accessed 17 June 2008, <www.wistv.com/Global/story.asp?S=8356379>.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Logan Smith, “Group Demands Immediate Termination of Irmo Principal,” WIS News 10, 28 May 2008, accessed 17 June 2008, <www.wistv.com/Global/story.asp?S=8366803>.
[4] Greg Hambrick, “GSA Rally in Irmo on Tuesday,” Charleston City Paper, 26 May 2008, accessed 17 June 2008, <http://gaycharleston.ccpblogs.com/2008/05/26/gsa-rally-in-irmo-on-tuesday/>.
[5] Brian McConchie, “School Board Tackles Gay/Straight Club Issue,” WACH, 27 May 2008, accessed 18 June 2008, <www.wach.com/news/news_story.aspx?id=139470>.
[6] Al Dozier, “Gay, Lesbian Groups: Walker Should Resign,” Free Times, 4 June 2008 – 10 June 2008, accessed 17 June 2008, <www.free-times.com/>.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Meg Kinnard, “S.C. district OKs clubs instead of banning gay group,” WCNC-TV, 23 June 2008, accessed 24 June 2008, <www.wcnc.com/news/southcarolina/stories/wcnc-062308-mw-clubs.321750cc.html>. 

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