It's no secret that many parents of children attending East High School are concerned about efforts there to organize a gay and lesbian club.
But one parent's opinion may carry more weight than others. Gov. Mike Leavitt, whose son is student body president of East High, weighed in Friday against the proposed club, saying the decision as to whether to allow such clubs should rest with local school boards, not Congress."I am not sure the national government should be deciding what happens in local school communities," Leavitt said during his weekly press briefing.
The governor said he has had conversations with his children about the gay and lesbian club controversy, and they agree that club is "not an activity we would like to see encouraged. As a parent, I don't think it is an activity we ought to be promoting in our schools."
The formal sanctioning of such a club, he said, would encourage that behavior because the very nature of clubs is to encourage activity and participation. That is why clubs are organized.
Leavitt would not say whether he would support banning all extracurricular clubs if that was the only solution to stopping the gay and lesbian club from forming on campus. "We're not at that point yet," he said, adding he wants to see what legislative solutions emerge.
The governor agreed with parents who are concerned that the loss of local control over school issues, and he said Congress is not the place local school issues should be decided.
Leavitt recently discussed the controversy with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who pushed through the Equal Access Act in 1984 to protect religious student groups that wanted to meet at public schools. Hatch told Leavitt the gay and lesbian issue was "an unintended consequence."
Under the provisions of federal law, schools cannot discriminate against clubs based on the controversial nature of the clubs, mandating that all clubs be treated equally.
Failure to comply with the federal law could mean the loss of $120 million in federal education funds earmarked for Utah schools. But Leavitt said talk of turning back the federal funds is just that - talk. "We're a long ways from that," he said.
Leavitt said the East High controversy is a small part of a much larger national debate over equal access issues over which "people have very strong feelings." And it is an issue that will generate debate for a long time to come.
The governor also said he agrees with allegations that East High students seeking to form the club have received advice from adults, but he stopped short of calling it a gay-lesbian conspiracy to infiltrate public schools.