Faculty and staff members at a charter school in Sandpoint, Idaho, set up a clandestine student “gay” club, recruited students for it and concealed their activism from the affected students’ parents apparently in violation of federal law, according to letter from the nonprofit legal organization Liberty Counsel.
Consequently, Liberty Counsel will “take further action to prevent irreparable harm to the rights of our clients, as well as the parents of other children whom the school is recruiting in the absence of their parents’ knowledge and permission,” the group says in a letter to school officials from Richard L. Mast Jr.
Principal Mary Jensen of Forrest Bird Charter School, which runs middle and high school operations, “admitted the secrecy under which school staff and others had operated,” Liberty Counsel says.
School employees even “facilitated kids meeting off-campus at a local library under the supervision of ‘supportive’ third parties.”
“Jensen stated that they wanted to be ‘a progressive school on that sort of thing, but we did not want to be ‘in-your-face’,’ so parents could not prevent their children from attending. She states ‘we’re keeping it kind of on the down low,’ because ‘this is North Idaho,’ and ‘kids who wanted to participate in the club did not necessarily want their parents to know,’” Liberty Counsel explains.
“Principal Jensen also stated that starting this club was one of her goals, saying, ‘The adults … we spent months trying to do this thing.’ Incredibly, Ms. Jensen also claims that ‘we don’t want the kids to be ‘excluded’ from ‘developing the [club’s] mission statement, because it’s their club.’ She also states ‘One of the members of the adult crew wanted us to be the activists, doing the parades, you know, be in-their-face kind of stuff.’ ‘We decided not to do activism at first, because that’s a big step.’ She stated, ‘I didn’t want to do that …because this is North Idaho,’” according to Liberty Counsel.
But the law forbids schools from sponsoring or recruiting for “gay” clubs, the legal team says.
In a new letter to the school, dated Thursday, the team writes the Equal Access Act, which regulates student clubs in schools, provides that a club is “curricular” only “if the subject matter of the group is actually taught, or will soon be taught, in a regularly offered course” or if the subject “concerns the body of courses as a whole.”
“Schools may not play games with what is ‘curricular/non-curricular. … Whatever arguments the school may raise about ‘combating bullying’ and ‘support,’ these are insufficient to bring the GSA into ‘curricular’ status.”
That means that “schools may not endorse partisan political or otherwise controversial positions of non-curricular clubs like GSA. It is as inappropriate for school employees to lead and recruit for the GSA in their official capacities, as it is for school employees to lead another partisan club, like the Young Democrats or Young Republicans,” the lawyers write.
The school declined to respond to a message left by WND requesting comment.
Liberty Counsel says: “Indeed, the Idaho Department of Education states that it is ‘unethical’ for teachers to use ‘institutional privileges for the promotion of political candidates or for political activities.’”
In fact, LC notes the school’s stated intention to refuse to require “teachers” to be at the “gay” club in a “supervisory, rather than activist, capacity” and that it may “encourage” non-school persons to be present.
“Jensen verified that the GSA ‘student led club’ was wholly created by adult staff and outside persons over ‘months’ and that staff then hand-picked and recruited students they believed should be in the GSA,” says Liberty Counsel, whose clients withdrew their child from the school with the letter.
The case developed when parents with a child who was experiencing a “high-functioning autism” that included gender dysphoria found out that Jensen and teachers Michael Bigley and Becky Campbell recruited their child for the “gay” club, without permission of the parents, and without notifying them.
They informed the school they did not want their child in the “gay” club.
But when the child one day forgot a lunch and the mother, identified only as Mrs. Doe in the letters, took it to school, “the student’s friends informed her that Student Doe was at the GSA club across the way.”
She then spoke to Jensen to repeat her instructions that her child “was and is not to participate with GSA in any fashion whatsoever.”
It was then, according to Liberty Counsel, that the principal explained the club was being set up by adults, children were being recruited and no one was being informed.
“She stated … when the adults involved at the charter school had also tried to start a GSA at Sandpoint Junior High, they couldn’t get it off the ground, because parents would not sign permission slips.
“She stated that ‘kids who wanted to participate in the club did not necessarily want their parents to know,’ and therefore these adults facilitated them meeting off campus at a local library under the supervision of third parties,” Liberty Counsel says.
The violations, LC says, include ignoring requirements that “all clubs … should have parental permission forms,” that the Equal Access Act “prohibits non-school-sponsored student clubs, such as those involving religious or political issues, from being school sponsored” and “teachers may not secretly recruit students to join a club like the Gay Straight Alliance.”
“If GSA is allowed to exist at all, parents must give their permission for their children’s participation, and it must be entirely student-led and directed,” LC says.
The school officials here, the letter explains, “have intentionally violated the parental rights of not only Mr. and Mrs. Doe, but the rights of the parents of the other students they have secretly invited to the GSA. The law is clear: parents, not agents of the state, have the right to direct the upbringing and associations of their children.”
“Student Doe is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (‘ASD’) child, and as such, is very impressionable. Student Doe has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, but this does not make the child ‘transgender’ or gay. Student Doe’s parents (who care more for her than school employees ever will) have sought professional treatment for Student Doe, and expect Student Doe to eventually become comfortable with the student’s actual gender. This is consistent with the findings of the National Institutes of Health: as many as 94 percent of students questioning their gender, or who have gender dysphoria, spontaneously resolve those feelings in favor of their biological gender by the age of eighteen.
“School staff and outside persons have recruited for the GSA, and staff have willfully permitted Student Doe to attend the club after being made aware that such attendance was not allowed by the student’s parents. The school has confirmed its intention to continue encouraging other children in avoiding parental permission for the GSA, and that it will not assist Mr. & Mrs. Doe in their desires for their child’s associations while in the school’s care.
“In doing do, Forrest M. Bird Schools has confirmed that it does not respect parental rights. Liberty Counsel will take further action to prevent irreparable harm to the rights of our clients.”
The school’s website lists its board members as Jim Zuberbuhler, Kate McAlister, Robin Ruppert, Chris Warren and Bill Hertzberg.
“It is outrageous that this school would intentionally undermine parental rights in this manner. Parents have the fundamental right to know about and direct the activities and associations of their minor children,” said Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel.
“It is simply not credible that this GSA is a ‘student-led club.’ Parents must stand up for their rights and expose activities like this to public scrutiny, as our clients have done here.”