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SCHOOLS SHOULD STAY OPEN TO ALL COMMUNITY GROUPS

SHARE SCHOOLS SHOULD STAY OPEN TO ALL COMMUNITY GROUPS

There are a lot of "what ifs" involved in a Salt Lake City School Board discussion of a district policy allowing civic, church and community groups to use school buildings during non-school hours for a nominal fee.

But the worst "what if" is the one that goes like this: What if a handful of students who want a gay club were to cause the district to close its facilities to everyone? That would be not only wrong, it would be silly. The students behind these ridiculous clubs already have succeeded in disrupting too much of the way schools function, causing the elimination of many legitimate clubs. They shouldn't be allowed to disrupt any more.Some board members are concerned the policy would let "in the back door" the gay-straight student group and former student clubs that have been eliminated as school-sanctioned organizations.

But there have been no requests from such groups to rent school facilities, and even if there were, the board would have little recourse but to permit them to use the buildings or eliminate use by nearly every other group that asks. Restricting the use of school buildings would be a mistake.

State law has been interpreted as encouraging the use of public school buildings and grounds as civic centers, and Salt Lake as well as most other school districts have building-rental policies with very few restrictions. That's the way it should be.

If students find a responsible adult supervisor who is willing to pay the rental fee and meet along with the youth, they should be allowed to use school buildings under the same policy that makes the facilities available for a political convention or a church play.

Board members have voiced concern about members of former student clubs that were eliminated in the wake of debate over whether the school should allow formation of a gay-straight alliance as requested by a small group at East High School last spring.

The board decided that, in order to bar the gay-straight alliance and still treat all students fairly, it would have to eliminate all non-curricular clubs. Many students and parents have protested the decision.

If such student groups want to continue to associate and share activities they should be able to pay the fee and meet as non-school-sanctioned community organizations. The school has no responsibility for such independent groups, and they are free to participate in any legal activity that does not damage school property.

The school board should maintain its current policy. School facilities should remain available for rent. To close them, or to eliminate only certain groups the district finds distasteful, would only invite court action and lead to restrictions that would hurt the community.