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Salt Lake City Prepares List of Banned Clubs

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Bill F. Cullinane's 86-year-old mother-in-law called him recently and asked: "What's wrong with Students Against Driving Drunk? They're not allowing it in Utah."

Mr. Cullinane, the executive director of the Marlboro, Mass.-based group that has chapters in every state, says he, too, would like to know what the Salt Lake City schools have against SADD. "To deny a forum for people to meet around that issue seems to me to be destructive ultimately to the lives of young people," he said.

SADD is one of many student clubs that the Salt Lake City school district intends to keep out of the public schools next year. Also on the list to be banished are the Key Club, which promotes community service; hockey and lacrosse clubs; the Human Rights Club; the Ethnic Alliance; and, in the spirit of bipartisanship, both the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats.

The formal announcement on April 18 of the groups allowed and excluded under the policy marked the latest chapter in the school board's attempt to gain control over the kinds of clubs allowed on its high school campuses.

Because the district is basing its decisions on school curriculum, though, the action also raises the issue of what constitutes curriculum in an era when schools are asked to do far more than teach reading, writing, and arithmetic.

"There are some really good qualities about the clubs. They're wonderful, but what we're looking at is [community help] in finding sponsors outside the schools," said Harold J. Trussel, the district's assistant superintendent of curriculum. "The schools obviously cannot be everything for everybody."

Classes or Credit

Feeling hemmed in by the Equal Access Act, the 1984 federal law that guarantees all student groups the right to use school facilities on an equal basis, the Salt Lake City board voted in February to eliminate all student extracurricular activities when the Gay-Straight Alliance wanted to form at East High School, one of three high schools in the 25,000-student district. (See Education Week, Feb. 28, 1996.)

Then last month--also on April 18--state lawmakers passed a bill that would force districts to bar student clubs that promote bigotry, encourage criminal conduct, or discuss issues of sexuality. Gov. Michael O. Leavitt is expected to sign that bill into law. (See Education Week, April 24, 1996.)

Meanwhile, Salt Lake City officials had prepared a list of approved and rejected activities under the new district policy. As of last week, no other districts had taken such a step.

"It's been a mess," Chris Segura, the executive director of the Utah Coalition of LaRaza, a Hispanic advocacy group, said of the state bill and the Salt Lake City action. "I don't think right now anybody is pleased with the way they've dealt with it."

The district's list is based on two criteria: whether a club relates directly to classroom instruction or carries academic credit. It relies on a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, that distinguished between curriculum-related clubs and others.

If the subject matter of the group is taught in a regularly offered class, the club got approved, Mr. Trussel said. Thus, the German Club is allowed. If club participation is required for a course or if it results in academic credit, it stays, he said.

That's why sports, if they are played at the interscholastic, rather than club, level made the approved list. Students who participate in interscholastic athletics in Utah receive academic credit, Mr. Trussel said.

Students will be allowed to appeal decisions on excluding clubs, but as of late last week, no appeals had been submitted, Mr. Trussel said. No one will be allowed to recruit for off-campus clubs on school grounds, he said.

Also excluded from the schools will be clubs devoted to various ethnic and racial groups--a move that has sparked concern in an increasingly diverse Salt Lake City. Thirty percent to 45 percent of the student populations at the city's three high schools are members of minority groups, according to Richard Gomez, the civil-rights monitoring officer for the state education department.

"These clubs provide students the opportunity to develop ethnic pride and to learn about their history, which is not reflected in the [curriculum]," said John J. Peregoy, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "What it is essentially saying is, 'You are not white, therefore, you are not equal,' " said Mr. Peregoy, who is on a minority advisory panel for the state board of education.

Mr. Trussel said the Salt Lake City board is attempting to work with the community to find alternate sponsors for some of the clubs that will lose their school home.

Extracurricular?

Under the Mergens decision, some educators have suggested that student councils must be banned, too, if noncurricular clubs are excluded, said Rocco M. Marano, the director of student activities for the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Reston, Va.

"It's all according to who's defining [curriculum] and what they want to get rid of," he said.

Mr. Marano said that what really bothers him is when school officials "consider these activities extracurricular anyway," given that they teach such valuable skills as goal-setting and communication.

"It seems to me to be playing with the concept of what curriculum is," said Mr. Cullinane of SADD, who is a former teacher. "Curriculum is all the learning that takes place within the walls of the school, and some of the most important learning is the socialization that takes place."

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