Gay/Straight Alliance approved
Group based at Little Wolf High School
By Holly Neumann
On a vote of 3-1, the Manawa School Board approved a Gay/Straight Alliance Club (GSA) at Little Wolf High School.
Students and community members spoke on the topic Nov. 15 at the board’s monthly meeting.
Senior Grace Tohm followed all protocols, guidelines and rules to get the organization started.
“This is a community where gay, straight and LGBTQ+ alike get together to provide a safe and accepting environment for everyone,” she said. “It promotes support, alliance and inclusivity. It’s about respect for our differences.”
Students Jack O’Brien and Ted Emmert also endorsed the cause.
“Manawa is a hostile place where people are bullied all the time,” O’Brien said. “GSA is here to support all students. We want a safe and comfortable environment in our school. We need to have a community to share and help people. We need to make sure Manawa is a better place.”
Emmert said it’s important that his classmates have the opportunity to explore their differences in identity in a welcoming and inclusive environment.
“As a straight student, it is important to me to support my classmates,” he said. “It is also important that all of us at Little Wolf High School learn to work together through differences.
“I see homophobic ideas almost every day at the school,” he said. “The only way to combat this is through a show of support among staff and students. This is not something that any other club can provide.”
Teachers show support
Teachers Sarah Bortle and Carrie Gruman-Trinkner also showed their support.
“I am in support of all students and I am also in support of GSA,” Bortle said.
“This is a public forum for the educational alliance and support for students in the LGBTQ+ community, their allies and their unique needs,” Gruman-Trinkner said. “It promotes diversity and acceptance while educating others.”
Gruman-Trinkner, along with Janine Connolly, have agreed to serve as the club’s advisers.
Several community members spoke against the club.
“Your decision should not be taken lightly, as you have a duty and huge responsibility to be a true representative on all matters,” Nina Much said. “Education needs to be a priority for this district for this generation and many to come. Voting on this issue tonight without full and complete disclosure would be a complete injustice to all parents, taxpayers and the entire community as a whole, which could have everlasting implications.”
Boundaries had been crossed, Much said.
“Planning meetings and inviting students, without parental knowledge or consent, to make choices for what is in the best interest of their own child based on their lifestyles and their beliefs systems,” she said. “The feeling of deception is valid,” she said.
Nicole Rineck questioned why students trying to start another club for bullying when one already exists.
“If a student is being bullied, they have options,” Rineck said. “First and foremost, they have their parents. They have the guidance counselors, staff, pastors and friends. And let’s not forget the social worker we are paying $15,000 a year to have in this school.
“Everyone needs to stay in their own lane,” she said. “When students leave high school, they need to be ready for the workplace and society. Let parents teach their children about life experiences, life choices and their values. Let teachers teach and keep the school for educational purposes.”
“Make sure all your decisions are reflective of the policies that you have made,” Stacey Trinrud said.
She reminded the board that they are responsible to the constituents, community members, parents and students and have a responsibility for the safety and protection of all students.
“What you decide here will have lasting affects for the school district and community of Manawa,” she said. “Make sure that the things you allow in this building are beneficial to all the childrens’ education. These policies have been designed to keep the students safe and mold them into honorable members of society.”
Ed O’Brien said when a student “comes out,” it is an intense time for their family.
“The stress that comes on those students is immense, like you cannot imagine,” he said. “They are trying to figure out who they are themselves. Slow the train down. If you move on something like this, you will lose students. I disagree at this point without further input from the parents.”
First Amendment rights
District reading specialist Michelle Johnson pointed out the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984, which forbids public schools from receiving federal funds if they deny students the First Amendment right to conduct meetings because of the “religious, political, philosophical or other content of the speech at such meetings.”
This means if the school allows even one extra-curricular student group to use school facilities, it must give equal access to all student groups regardless of the focus or viewpoint of that group. The act also ensures the rights of students to form a wide range of groups, including gay/straight alliances, bible study programs, political groups and specific interest groups.
“Where we allow one club, we have to allow another,” board president Joanne Johnson said. “This is the law.”
Board member Pete Griffin wanted to hold off on voting until the full board was present. He said parents should have been informed about the organization of the club.
“We are missing three board members tonight,” Griffin said. “I think this moved along awfully fast. It’s not the law that we vote tonight.”
Board member Kerri Jepson asked what delaying the vote would do.
“The law says we have to vote a certain way,” she said. “We don’t have an option.”
Johnson said the board’s Curriculum Committee made a motion to pass the matter on to the whole board.
“When a club is formed, the district does not normally send home parental slips unless the club is meeting off the premises,” she said.
After a vote to table the matter ended in a tie, a motion to form the GSA passed with Johnson, Russ Hollman and Jepson voting yes and Griffin voting no.
In other business
• Griffin reported that the Manawa Athletic Booster Club has already raised $42,636 for the new rubberized track.
• The board canceled a planned spring trip to Washington, D.C., for grades 7-9. The group would be required to stay in Washington, D.C., for an additional 10 days if any of the students were suspected of having COVID-19.
• The board will have two open seats for the spring election, with Joanne Johnson (full district) and Russ Johnson (Zone 6) up for re-election.
A campaign registration statement and declaration of candidacy must be filed no later than 5:00 p.m., on Tuesday, Jan. 4, in the office of the school district clerk at 800 Beech St.