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Family complains about Gay-Straight Alliance club poster at Columbia middle school

One Columbia family claims the school district broke the law allowing a student club to advertise around the school.

Seventh-grader Summer Allen, along with her parents, spoke to the Columbia Board of Education Monday night about Smithton Middle School’s Gay-Straight Alliance. They claim the district should have done more to inform Smithton parents about the club’s intention.

Summer told ABC 17 News, with permission from her parents, that she first saw posters for the club last school year. She said she thought nothing of it, until they appeared with more frequency around the school this year.

That’s when she brought the issue up to her father, who had problems with it.

“He was giving me information about how that’s verbal sexual harassment, and it’s against the law for them to be doing that,” Summer said.

Ken Allen, Summer’s father, brought a poster to the Monday meeting that he tore down from the school’s hallway during a parent-teacher conference this school year. The poster features several hands covering a heart, and marked with different terms such as “lesbian,” “pansexual,” and “transgender.”

Ken Allen said he took the sign down “in a fit of rage,” and accused the district of not being transparent about the club. He said school administrators chased him from the school for tearing the sign down.

“I think that parents that want to have this conversation with their children should, in the home,” Ken Allen said. “I think that just like certain other topics, such as religion and Christianity, that perhaps the school, in and of itself, should not be the proper place for this conversation.”

The school’s website lists the Gay-Straight Alliance as one of its clubs. The club “welcomes all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and straight youth to come and talk about any issues concerning them,” according to its description online.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the poster does not violate state law, since it’s a promotional poster for a club. The law the Allens cite requires a district to notify parents of the content of their human sexuality instruction, and allow parents to remove their child from that instruction.

Baumstark confirmed the confrontation at Smithton Middle School over the poster, adding that Allen also sought out the school’s principals over the situation. She said that school officials decided not to pursue charges against Allen for taking the sign.

It’s at least the second time the district has dealt with criticism over LGBTQ-related material at a school this year. CPS took down some posters showing celebrities in the LGBTQ community at Gentry Middle School after parents complained about them in October.

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