by Matt Wright
A controversial new middle school club was the topic of conversation at the Lakeland School Board meeting on Monday night, December 6, 2021. The new club for middle school students, called the “Gay Straight Alliance”, will be a new offering to children at the school. According to a Wikipedia article, Gay Straight Alliance clubs are created to “provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children, teenagers, and youth as well as their cisgender heterosexual allies.”
The club will start after the Christmas break in the second semester of the school year. The school made the announcement in a weekly email to parents with a graphic entitled “Join The G.S.A!” The graphic promoting the club said students that attend will play games and be provided snacks. The club’s main sponsor is LPS drama teacher Mrs. Mandy Christopher. But according to Lakeland Prep principal, Mrs. Corrie Martin, 6 other staff members will also help with the club. She said the club is open to all 6th thru 8th grade students, but it is not mandatory. She also provided a statement saying, “they (school staff) are willing to work with the students in the club to make sure that the club activities work within the unique environment of Lakeland Prep.”
But a group of parents that attended the school board meeting was not happy about the decision and shared their frustrations with school board members and Lakeland Superintendent Dr. Ted Horrell.
Chad Reynolds and his wife Heather Reynolds told school board members they want a school for their 8 and 13 year old sons where they are simply educated and not “indoctrinated”. Mr. Reynolds told the school board that Mrs. Christophers’ social media account was very concerning saying, “It’s all over her social media accounts. She has an agenda to infiltrate our school system with her beliefs.”
While the school board did say students must have parents permission to attend Gay Straight Alliance club events, Mrs. Reynolds told Lakeland Currents in a phone call that all students, including her sons, will still be exposed. “It’s going to be advertised in emails, over the intercom system and posters in the halls trying to bait 10, 11 and 12 year old kids into their club meetings.”
Matt Thie, who has 3 students at Lakeland, agreed with Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds. Mr. Thie asked the school board, “Where do we draw the line?” He told the school board he would remove his children from Lakeland schools if they continue to support this decision, a sentiment shared by those that spoke out. Matt Morris, who has 3 daughters at Lakeland also expressed opposition to the Gay Straight Alliance club. He told school officials children being asked or being taught about their sexuality is “inexcusable.”
Another speaker of interest was former Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker. Mr. Bunker, who has a son at Lakeland Preparatory School, rose before the board and said, “I was shocked and appalled when I saw the email (promoting the club).” Looking at board members he said, “Is this the school system that we fought for? (A school system) that now clearly doesn’t align with our values.” Mr. Bunker, who served on the Shelby County School Board for 7 years, said he was no stranger to controversy and opposing liberal ideology in public schools. He suggested the school board temporarily remove all extracurricular clubs until more research and a decision can be made. He finished by saying, “At this point, we have to take a stand.” When reached for comment about temporarily removing clubs until a future decision can be made, School Board Member Michelle Childs said that would be difficult for her to support. “Being a public school it’s certainly a difficult choice to consider ending all clubs vs. adding this one.”
When public comments were finished, School Board Member Laura Harrison asked Eric Plumlee, the board attorney, to explain to parents why they cannot intervene as a board. Mr. Plumlee told the parents and the school board, “Policy for the school says they will not deny any club based on that clubs belief.” Adding, “That policy did not just come out of thin air. If you are going to allow some of them, you have to allow all of them.” Principal Martin reiterated this to Lakeland Currents saying, “The school is required by the Student Equal Access board policy (4.802) to allow student-initiated clubs to be created so long as they fit within the requirements of that policy.”
The school board said based on Mr. Plumlee’s feedback, there is nothing they can do because of any potential litigation that could occur. However, when asked if a lawsuit has been filed, or threatened to be filed if the club is not approved, school board member Jeremy Burnett said he was unaware of any threats of litigation.
Mrs. Harrison did suggest the possibility of a town hall about the subject, but it was unclear what the outcome would be if more parents spoke out. Parents like Mrs. Reynolds who told Dr. Horrell and the School Board, “It’s not your job to teach them (students) who to love, like, include or exclude. That’s my family’s job! I need you to teach my kids things that will get them to high school and college.”
The full school board meeting can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXA0cLbvshA