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UPDATE: Lake Lure Classical Academy’s board has voted to adopt a new club policy that will allow a LGBTQ+ student group and other organizations to return to functioning after a brief suspension. The new policy at the K-12 charter school in western Rutherford County requires parental approval for students in grades 8 or lower to participate in clubs. A statement released by the board included the following remarks: “To the students who are currently in the newly formed gay straight alliance, or any student who may wish to participate in the future, we respect you as individuals and support you as members of our school family. We support your club just as we do the chess club, Raptors for Christ and all other clubs that exist or may form under our policy guidelines. Our school is a place of inclusion, not exclusion.”

Below is the original article from Carolina Public Press that appeared on Nov. 23, a week prior to the charter school board’s action:

LAKE LURE — A Western North Carolina charter school is coming under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union after a recent ban on student clubs, apparently prompted by controversy surrounding a student organization that promoted tolerance of gay and transgender students.

Lake Lure Classical Academy in Rutherford County has announced a special meeting of its board to consider a new policy at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 30, at the Lake Lure Town Hall. Exactly what shape the new policy will take remains unclear. But the ALCU warned against discriminating against the LGBTQ+ student group, which offered support for students identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, among others.

LLCA Policy Committee chair Margery Sherill told Carolina Public Press that this will be an open session, like all of the charter school’s board meetings.

She said her committee is currently seeking legal advice that will guide it drafting an appropriate policy, which will be presented to the full board at that meeting. She said releasing that draft in advance to the public was not something she had considered, but she didn’t rule out the possibility.

Charter status

The K-12 school, like charter programs throughout North Carolina, is authorized by the state and funded through state tax dollars but administered independently of the traditional school district and its elected board, which governs public schools in Rutherford County.

Public schools run the risk of violating students’ civil liberties if they differentiate between student clubs based on their ideology, especially without having a formal policy in place.

Private schools have much greater latitude to decide what types of clubs to allow. For instance, a religiously affiliated private school might understandably object to allowing a club that promoted a different faith or one that promoted behaviors that the school’s administrators found opposed to its religious mission.

But despite some objections to the LGBTQ+ group on religious grounds from some in the Lake Lure community, LLCA is not religiously affiliated. And it’s not a private school.

While a charter school is a lot like a private school in many respects, being allowed to push a particular ideology isn’t one of them, the ACLU says.

According to a letter that ACLU legal director Christopher Brook sent to the school’s attorney, Chris Callahan on Wednesday, Nov. 18, a student and her parent contacted the ALCU for assistance after the school suspended all student-run clubs on Nov. 12.

This action came shortly after the student launched the LGBTQ+ support group, “to promote tolerance and equality as well as create a safer, more respectful environment for all students.”

The letter warns that the school risks violating the federal Equal Access Act if it fails to treat all student clubs the same.

Brook talked with Carolina Public Press about the situation on Friday, noting that legal guidelines in this case should be clear.

“In North Carolina, charter schools are regarded as public schools,” Brook said. “What makes the Equal Access Act applicable is whether a charter school receives public funds.”

Drafting a policy

The letter requests a response from the school by Dec. 11. Brook said Friday that he had not been aware before talking with CPP of the school’s plan for the special meeting next week to approve a new policy.

In his letter, Brook noted that some community members, including Lake Lure Baptist Church Pastor Anton Roos, have complained about the club, labeling it “an act of Satan” and warning that students who founded it face divine punishment.

LLCA board chairman Chris Braund told CPP in an email that the board’s action did not come only in response to complaints from Roos and other individuals, but after hearing from both opponents and supporters of the new club during public comments portion of a board meeting.

“After discussion about our policies on clubs, the board directed our policy committee to research, obtain legal guidance and to bring recommendations back to the board,” Braund said.

Ironically, the school’s suspension of clubs has also affected a Christian organization, Raptors for Christ. Brook noted that this group’s adviser has called for an end to the ban because it “impoverishes the LLCA community and its students.”

Whether the proposal that comes out of the LLCA Policy Committee will allow all, some or no clubs going forward remains to be seen, as will the ACLU’s response to its decision.

Sherill told CPP that her committee’s goals as described in a statement released last week still stand.

“Each member of the committee is dedicated to bringing a timely, well-informed, equitable solution to the board before the next meeting,” the statement says.

“It is our goal that club activities will be reinstated, clear guidelines and policies written and a path defined for the creation and operation of existing and future clubs/groups.”

Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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