N.C. school makes the right call – but sends the wrong message – on an LGBT club

A ribbon-cutting ceremony in August for Lake Lure Classical Academy’s new home in Rutherford County.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony in August for Lake Lure Classical Academy’s new home in Rutherford County. AROUNDLAKELURE.COM

It took some time and some nudging, but the Lake Lure Classical Academy school board got to the right (and perhaps inevitable) place this week.

After suspending all student-run clubs last month following parent complaints about an LGBT group, board members at the Rutherford County public charter school reinstated all clubs Monday.

It’s what the chairman of the school’s board of directors, Chris Braund, hinted the school would do in a conversation last month with the Observer’s editorial board.

Braund was unhappy then about an editorial that was critical of the decision to suspend all clubs. He said the board had acted appropriately in responding to parent and community complaints, and that the school was eventually going to get where the Observer wanted – with all the clubs reinstated.

So what was the problem? Braund and his board should never have suspended the clubs. The board could have figured this one out in about 20 minutes with a call to the school attorney, who quickly would have explained what’s commonly known – that federal law says public schools have to treat all student-run clubs the same. Ban one and you have to ban them all.

At the least, board members could have told parents to hold their fire for a night or two while the attorney was consulted.

Braund disagrees. His board was taken by surprise at the meeting, he said. Parents were threatening to pull their children from the school, and there was at least some talk of lawsuits. The board, he said, acted with “an abundance of caution” in response.

But that caution was reserved only for the parents who complained, not for LGBT students who saw the club as a safe haven from the kind of bigotry displayed at the meeting. (That included one pastor who called the LGBT club an “act of Satan.”)

The board at least tried to mitigate that damage Monday. In a statement, it said: “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.”

For those of us critical of the earlier decision, the statement added: “Our board aims to be deliberative and to always act in the best interest of the school as a whole, and rarely is that a task that (is) improved with speed.”

Except the board didn’t act deliberately at the beginning. It quickly and rashly suspended all clubs in the face of complaints about the LGBT club, and in doing so showed more willingness to accommodate intolerance, even for a short time, than concern about the message that sent to LGBT students. We doubt the board would have leaped to the same decision if some families had complained about, say, LLCA’s Raptors for Christ club.

We’re glad the school’s board eventually landed on the right decision Monday. But by cowing to the intolerant last month, it reminded everyone why LGBT students might want a club in the first place.

Peter St. Onge