Parents would be responsible for writing a note to allow their kids to opt out of school clubs in Tennessee under an amended bill approved by the House Education Committee Wednesday.
The earlier version of the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, called for schools to notify parents about the "mission or purpose" of school clubs and required written permission from a parent for students to join a club. A similar bill sponsored by House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol was taken off notice in the House Education Committee.
Hill's legislation had come under fire from at least three statewide groups - the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC), American Civil Liberties Union and Tennessee Equality Project (TEP).
On its political action Web site (www.ttgpac.com), TTPC said the bill had too many unintended consequences.
"A clear example would be a child having his or her only outlet for camaraderie stifled by disinterested parents failing to sign a document - no matter what club the child may choose to join," the Web site noted. "Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) provide a safe space and peer support for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual (GLBT) students and their straight friends, while promoting self-respect and tolerance, and stand against GLBT bullying and harassment. Several schools across Tennessee already have GSAs, and they are providing an important service for GLBT youth in the state."
Hill also indicated the Tennessee Education Association was opposed to the earlier 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 state- wide, according to the state's Fiscal Review Office.
The amended bill, said Hill, "still maximizes parental involvement by letting the schools inform the parent in their handbook that they already print up" about school clubs.
"We just used another path to get to the same goal, and it keeps the Democrats happy," Hill said after the committee vote.
For more information, go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The bill's number is HB 0905. Its Senate companion measure is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee next Wednesday.