Hawkins BOE approves Gay-Straight Alliance for Volunteer High despite fiery rebuke

Jeff Bobo • Dec 16, 2018 at 2:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County Board of Education voted 5-1 Thursday to approve the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance student organization at Volunteer High School, despite a fiery rebuke from one of the board members.

Tecky Hicks, who is also pastor at the First Baptist Church in Surgoinsville, said that if the board approved the GSA, parents should pull their children out of school.

Legal liability concerns

Some BOE members stated that despite their convictions and beliefs, they worried that denying the GSA would place the county school system in legal liability.

County Attorney Jim Phillips, the Tennessee School Board Association’s legal counsel and attorney Lawrence Giordano, who represents the BOE in litigation, all said if the GSA is denied and a lawsuit is filed, the county would lose.

BOE Vice Chairman Debbie Shedden said she took an oath of office when she became a board member to support the Constitution of Tennessee as well as the Constitution of the United States.

Shedden said board decisions don’t always reflect the viewpoints, convictions or beliefs of members.

“The decisions that we make must look at potential lawsuits, not only for our school system, but also for our county,” Shedden added. “The money that we would tie up (fighting a lawsuit) would be money we would be taking away from our students, our teachers, our school system.”

Remove your children from school?

Hicks told board members he took the same oath as Shedden, but he believes the Bible supersedes the Constitution of the U.S., the Bill of Rights, the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, school board policy, the state constitution “and everything else.”

“Therefore, based on that, there’s no way under God’s heaven I can approve any such club in our schools,” Hicks told the board. “I’ve got a daughter who has a child in second grade this year, and she has already made the decision that if something like this is approved by our board, she’s pulling her kid out of school. I would suggest, and I’ll make it a public statement, that every person in the county who has that privilege — do it.

“I’ll take my stand on what I believe above and beyond anything man has ever made because the Bible plainly teaches that we are to subject ourselves to the authority that’s over us as long as the authority doesn’t overstep the bounds of what God has said it ought to be. God settled that over 2,000 years ago, folks, and I’m going to stand on it until hell freezes over.”

Why is this a BOE issue?

Hicks and Chris Christian questioned why approval of the GSA had come before the BOE in the first place.

One policy states that the board approves all new extracurricular activities, while another policy states the school principal approves new clubs.

Director of Schools Reba Bailey noted that the BOE has set a precedent by approving new student organizations in the past. She noted that Volunteer Principal Bobby Wines has already approved the GSA at the school level.

BOE Chairman Bob Larkins said both policies need to be merged and clarified, and that will be addressed at a later meeting.

What is the GSA?

Volunteer High School senior Hannah Yarosh, who is one of three co-founders of the proposed GSA, told the Times News last month one of the goals of the organization is to build an environment based on tolerance and acceptance.

Yarosh said the GSA would allow students “a safe place” to talk about LGBT issues as well as help increase understanding and respect for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

She estimated last month that there are at least 20 students interested in joining the organization, some of whom are gay and some who, like her, aren’t gay but consider themselves “allies.”

In the best interest of students

Christian, who represents Church Hill, said he discussed the issue with many people who might be conflicted due to personal or religious convictions, but also feel compassion for the students the GSA would serve.

“Could it provide a platform, a venue for this child to be able to express themselves?” Christian asked. “Could it provide a venue to prevent tragedy, to protect this child who has no family support or no one to reach out to?”

Christian added, “That’s why I serve on this board. For the betterment of the children. I’m not questioning what these kids are going to do, but if there’s an ounce of hope of saving someone, a child, I would have to vote yes.”

Larkins said he was told seven years ago when he joined the BOE that if he based his decisions on what’s best for the students, he wouldn’t go wrong in many cases.

“I’ve discussed it with my own pastor, spiritual leader, and I’ve discussed it with many people in the community,” Larkins said. “I’ve arrived at a decision that I think it’s in the best interest of the students.”

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Hicks.



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