Starting a new club at Clovis High School is usually a routine process: Fill out forms, get approval from the administration, find members and establish meetings. All of this seemed to be going well for Steven De Los Santos, who spearheaded a Gay-Straight Alliance at Clovis High School—until administration postponed approval.
After looking over the forms, Principal Wayne Marshall approved the Alliance on Tuesday, March 1. In the proposal, De Los Santos states the mission is to “build a bridge between gays and straights, to create a safe environment for students and learn to support each other, to educate the school community about homophobia, gender identity and sexual orientation, and to fight discrimination, harassment and violence.”
“Mr. Marshall seemed to be supportive of the idea,” De Los Santos said.
By Friday of that week, however, Marshall revoked permission, saying he had overstepped his authority by not referring the club to Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Terry Myers. Marshall declined to comment.
De Los Santos had gotten as far as making announcements over the school’s public announcement system about the first meeting, which was to take place the first Tuesday after Spring Break.
“Mr. Marshall called me down [to his office] the day after the announcement was initially ran and personally told me that he had made a mistake,” said De Los Santos.
No one from the administration or staff notified the student body that the club had been postponed, he added.
“The club’s cancellation was carried by word of mouth. There was no formal announcement saying that the club had been canceled, but I think everyone got the hint ... .”
Steven De Los Santos
“The club’s cancellation was carried by word of mouth. There was no formal announcement saying that the club had been canceled, but I think everyone got the hint when the announcement wasn’t ran on the PA system anymore,” said De Los Santos.
CHS students have attempted to start GSAs in the past, all with the same result: They weren't approved.
Sherri Stephenson would have been the club’s sponsor. She said one GSA attempt in 2004 went as far as the superintendent—Neil Nuttall at the time— but was denied. “Others have asked about forming one but got discouraged,” said Stephenson, Psychology and Comparative Religions teacher.
Erin Justice, a student, says a GSA would give LGBT students a place to connect with people who support them. “[It’s] also a place where students can be themselves without having to worry about being made fun of or having to hear rude, degrading comments.”.
Federal law states that if a public school allows noncurriculum-based student groups to meet on campus, then the school must allow all clubs with a sponsor to meet. This type of policy is called limited open forum.
Under a closed-forum policy, groups are allowed on campus only if they offer curriculum.
“Under the Equal Access Act of 1984, if a public school allows even one student non-curricular club to form, it automatically becomes a limited open forum and must allow any other non-curricular student club to form,” said Alexandra Smith, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We’re not defining what clubs are allowed. We’re defining what is considered curricular and not curricular.”
Superintendent Terry Myers
On Tuesday, April 5, club sponsors at CHS received a slip of paper in their staff mailboxes asking, “What curriculum does your club offer?”
French Club and Drama Club would be curricular because they are tied to courses that are taught at the school, Smith explains. “Chess Club, service clubs such as Key Club and cheerleading are examples of clubs that courts have found to be non-curricular,” she said.
During their April meeting, school board members approved the change of policy, making CHS a closed forum.
Superintendent Myers stated at the meeting: “I think what you hear from other groups or people is not true. We’re not defining what clubs are allowed. We’re defining what is considered curricular and not curricular. If it’s an organization relating to the students and their issues, then there will be no denial.”
CHS has seen controversy around LGBT issues in the past. In May 2008, Clovis residents had mixed reactions when the yearbook, The Plainsman, was published showing two lesbian couples on the relationship pages.
“We just wanted to show that there is a diversity, there [are] gay and lesbian couples in the school and they have a right to be in the yearbook just as much as anybody else does," Editor in Chief Maggie Chavez told the Clovis News Journal in 2008.
At the time, local businesses, Christian church groups and other members of the community voiced their opposition.
“We don’t think that it reflects anywhere close to the attitudes and the morals of the community. I don’t have a child in school but I’m appalled. If I were the parents of those kids, I’d own that school. Those are minors,” said Will Cockrell, a member of the Christian Citizenship Team, a group at Central Baptist Church, in an article in the Clovis News Journal.
Citizens threatened to cease their financial donations to school projects.
“If this is indeed the direction that this school system is going to take and continue to promote, then don’t look to me for anymore donations,” said Former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley.
Youth who experience harassment on the basis of sexual orientation are: more than than twice as likely to report depression and seriously consider suicide; more likely to report low grades, smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs; more likely to become victims of violence; three times as likely to carry a weapon; and three times as likely to report missing school in the last 30 days, according to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
There are other GSAs in high schools across New Mexico that are registered with the Network including: Albuquerque High School, Atrisco Heritage Academy, Bosque School, Capital High School, Cibola High School, Del Norte High School, Desert Academy, Eldorado High School, Ft. Wingate Reservation School, Highland High School, La Cueva High School, Las Cruces High School, Los Alamos High School, Manzano High School, Mayfield High School, Oñate High School, Pojoaque High School, Piedra Vista High School, Rio Grande High School, Rio Rancho High School, Robertson High School, Sandia High School, Sandia Preparatory School, Santa Fe High School, Santa Fe Preparatory School, St. Michael’s High School, Taos High School, Valley High School and West Mesa High School.