New LGBTQ club approved at Lakeland Preparatory School

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:00 PM CST

LAKELAND, Tenn. (WMC) - A recently approved club for Lakeland Preparatory School students was a hot topic at a special school board meeting Tuesday night.

Allies for Diversity is a club students proposed to create a safe space for LGBTQ youth at LPS.

Some parents are against the club. A few made claims that such a club would attempt to indoctrinate students or even confuse students about their gender.

Along with parents against the club, there were several who spoke out in support of the students. Several noted the legal responsibility of the school to provide such a club, as there were no legal grounds to deny it, and others stated the importance of safe spaces for students so that they don’t feel “alone” or “different.”

One parent approached the board and other parents with a personal anecdote from a time when their child felt that they were too different from their peers and as though they couldn’t talk to their parents about what they were experiencing. His message was:

“Let me tell you parents right now, when you find out your child tried to take their own life knowing you could have contributed to it because you chose to downplay and dismiss it... It rattles you to your core.”

One student also spoke to the school board, telling them that she had been bullied at school and on the bus for being openly gay.

Later, parents against the club stated that they do not approve of Allies for Diversity, but they do agree that the school board should do more to prevent instances of bullying and that kind of behavior is unacceptable.

Superintendent Dr. Ted Horrell talked about the process to approve the club.

He says the board reached out to their attorney, as well as two outside attorneys, and found, based on the law, the club should be approved.

One of those attorneys says the school must follow the Equal Access Act.

“This applies to secondary schools. It says it is unlawful for us to deny equal access or fair opportunity to discriminate against any student that wishes to conduct a meeting within a limited open forum,” attorney Chuck Cagle said.

Previously in the discussion about EAA laws, the board was unsure how the laws affected LPS since it includes grades 5-8 and they consider it a “hybrid” school and not a secondary school.

Cagle outlined for them that Tennessee laws define secondary schools as grades 7-12, and, since 7th and 8th grade are both included at LPS, they must follow EAA laws for secondary schools.

Cagle also addressed some of the other parents’ concerns with the club.

He said that there could be no instance of indoctrination by any outside organization, as the club would have to be proposed and run by students. Any faculty member would not be considered a sponsor, but instead they are simply an observer to ensure the health and safety of any students that attend.

Furthermore, he stressed that the club would be voluntary and no student would have to join if they did not want to.

Cagle said that should the club be denied, the reprimands by the federal government would include a loss of all funding by the government, which he roughly estimated would be around 20% of the school’s funding.

The ACLU of Tennessee made a statement in a Twitter thread about the club saying:

In the thread ACLU also says that it would be unlawful for the school to deny under the Equal Access Act, and, aside from legal responsibilities, it makes sense for educational purposes to provide a safe space where students can share experiences and learn about LGQTQ topics as well as discuss anti-LGBTQ harassment.

Further down in the thread ACLU says that being able to talk openly and honestly with each other is essential to making young people aware of the harms caused by discrimination and violence.

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