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Alpine is reviewing its policy on clubs

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AMERICAN FORK — The Alpine School District Board of Education is considering changes to its club policy as policymakers on Capitol Hill and elsewhere weigh in on gay clubs in Utah public schools.

The first Utah County gay-straight alliance was formed in the neighboring Provo District last fall. An Alpine District committee is currently studying the club policy that Provo enacted a month after formation of the gay-straight alliance at Provo High.

The district committee is also monitoring the progress of two bills currently before the Utah Legislature that could restrict gay-straight alliances. Alpine will consider a change in its own policy once the Legislature ends its session on Wednesday.

The Alpine committee is specifically considering requiring parental consent for students to participate in any club, district spokeswoman Jerrilyn Mortensen said.

The Utah Senate last week approved a bill by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, that would require parental consent for all school clubs. Many fear it will put an end to gay-straight alliances, but Buttars has said his bill only makes consistent club rules for all the state's 40 school districts and specifies the grounds on which club charters can be approved or denied.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, is being considered. Tilton's bill is awaiting floor debate.

The Alpine Board of Education has been reviewing and reworking its student policies since May. Mortensen said it is just a coincidence that the club portion is under discussion at the same time as the Legislature is discussing statewide policy.

"We didn't start the process because of that," Mortensen said. "But we were aware of the situation there when we did review that policy."

Utah County has been called one of the most conservative regions in the United States. Provo's school board and administration received dozens of angry letters and phone calls from people who felt the alliance contradicted the norms of the community.

That's apparently not the case in Alpine. Mortensen said she's fielded few calls of concern from parents about the gay-straight alliances, and students have not sought to form one.

Provo's policy is "quite a bit more detailed than our policy, and they (the committee) just brought it in for discussion," Mortensen said.

About 15 Utah high schools have gay-straight alliances.

Advocates for gay-straight alliances worry parental consent may cause problems for teenagers who do not yet feel comfortable "coming out" to their parents. Gay-straight alliances, they say, are mostly social clubs that provide safety, support and inclusiveness to students.

"If they want to require permission slips, fine," said State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, an attorney and one of two openly gay Utah legislators. "I think you'll find some kids may forge the permission slip ... Another thing that could happen, these folks (club members) may be forced to meet in an informal setting."

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com