ATLANTA -- Defying expectations, the State Board of Education rejected a rule that would require students to get parental permission before joining most school clubs.
The action came this morning during a special meeting. Superintendent Kathy Cox argued that the requirement would spur parental involvement in children's education. Opponents said it was an attempt to undermine groups that encourage friendships between gay and straight students.
However, the board's vote was not expected to be the end of the issue. While Cox said she had long considered such a rule, she actually proposed the regulation when state lawmakers were requiring a law requiring parental permission.
"I would venture a guess that, after today's action, there probably will be action in the legislature," Cox said.
Trouble for the rule began when the board decided to take separate, straw-poll style votes on two different portions of the rule: One requiring schools to notify parents of which clubs were offered at the school and another requiring parental permission for students to join.
While many school board members said they agreed with the notification portion of the rule, they rejected the permission requirement by a 10-3 vote.
Pat Biggerstaff, a board member from Lincolnton, said she was concerned that the move could hamper some elementary school activities, such as when teachers ask their classrooms if students want to be a member of "Plant-a-Tree Club."
"I think this would be very cumbersome," Biggerstaff said. "I mean, you can't assume common sense."
Board member Jose Perez of Norcross worried about how much the rule has already perplexed the state panel. The board had already voted in April to rewrite the rule to try to make it more palatable to local schools.
"Look how long it's taken us, and it is fairly simple," Perez said. "I think we're going to pass this confusion on to the schools."
Perez also pointed out that students could drop out of school at 16, join the Army at 18 but would still have to get a parent's permission to join an extracurricular organization if they remain in school.
"I'm not sure I quite comprehend that," Perez said, raising the specter of a lawsuit.
The board then voted along the same lines, 10-3, to defeat the rule. Some supporters of the permission requirement then voted against writing a rule that would just require notification; that idea failed on a 7-6 tally.
After the vote, supporters of gay-straight alliances said they were pleased with the outcome. Many had seen the rule as an attempt to stifle the clubs, meant to provide support for gay, lesbian or transgender students who encounter bullying or teasing from classmates.
The vote "showed that the board carefully considered the measure before it and voted in favor of our students," said Edward Gray, director of YouthPride, a Decatur-based group that works with students who are gay, lesbian, transgender or questioning their sexual identity.
Brandon Larrabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (404) 681-1701.
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