Bill would require parents' permission for kids to join school clubs

Hank Hayes • Apr 7, 2007 at 11:45 AM

Parents would have to write up a permission slip to allow their kids to participate in school clubs and organizations under a bill scheduled to be considered by Tennessee legislative committees.

Not everyone is giving a thumbs-up to state Rep. Matthew Hill's proposed legislation coming before lawmakers on the House and Senate Education committees Wednesday.

Hill, R-Jonesborough, said the idea for the bill came from feedback he got while campaigning for re-election last fall.

"I had people all the time saying ‘We need more parental involvement in schools' ... and I hear that from administration folks and teachers," Hill said.

But some interest groups are lining up against Hill's bill.

Students have access to about 50 clubs at Kingsport's Dobyns-Bennett High School - everything from the Junior Statesmen of America to the Art Club.

The man who oversees those clubs, D-B Assistant Principal and Activities Director Mike Fulkerson, said Hill's measure could actually hurt student involvement in clubs. Right now, he said, all the clubs are open to any student with a particular interest.

"Signing a form doesn't necessarily increase parent involvement," Fulkerson said. "Just my first impression ... it seems like it would have a slight reduction on enrollment in our clubs and activities. Students are not as likely to return permission forms. You might see an increase in forgery. Those are just things you need to be aware of."

Fulkerson pointed out research shows that students who are more engaged in school activities are generally more successful academically.

"We encourage participation. It's a good thing for students to be involved in something," he said.

Three statewide groups - the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC), American Civil Liberties Union and Tennessee Equality Project - are taking an active political stance against Hill's measure.

On its political action Web site (www.ttgpac.com), TTPC says the bill would destroy so-called "Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs)" in public schools.

"GSAs provide a safe space and peer support for gay, lesbian, transgender (GLBT) and bisexual students and their straight friends, while promoting self-respect and tolerance, and stand against GLBT bullying and harassment," said a position statement on the Web site. "Several schools across Tennessee already have GSAs, and they are providing an important service for GLBT youth in the state."

Hill admitted the bill could have a negative impact on other clubs.

"It could also have negative impact on Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That's not my intent. I love the FCA. ... The intent of the bill is not to prop up one or another organization. ... The bottom line is if a parent does not want a child to participate in a club, they have the responsibility to do that. These are minor children."

Hill indicated the Tennessee Education Association was opposed to the original version of the bill, which would have required each school to notify parents by letter of all clubs or organizations available to students. That part of the bill was eliminated because of its expense. There are about 300,000 children in grades 9-12 statewide, according to the state's Fiscal Review Office.

Hill said a number of lawmakers are getting behind his bill.

"I actually have Democrats on the (education) committee who are actually supporting the bill, like Rep. Tommie Brown from Chattanooga. ... She thought it was a great idea, and that surprised a lot of people," he said.

For more information go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The bill's number is HB0905.

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