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High School principal quitting over Gay-Straight Alliance

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Irmo High principal quitting over Gay-Straight Alliance

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IRMO, SC (WIS) - The Irmo High School Principal's announced resignation over a controversial student group is already drawing national attention.

Principal Eddie Walker told WIS News 10 his resignation won't take effect until June, 2009 - the end of the 2008-2009 school year.

Walker says it comes after he was asked to allow the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance club at the school.

He wouldn't talk on camera with us, but we did receive a letter he wrote to the school, in which he tells his side of the story, which involves a controversial student group:

"The formation of this club conflicts with my professional beliefs in that we do not have other clubs at Irmo High school based on sexual orientation, sexual preference, or sexual activity. In fact our sex education curriculum is abstinence based. I feel the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Irmo High school implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes.

My decision to resign is a personal choice based on my professional beliefs and religious convictions. I have prayed about the decision for a period of time and I have a peace about it. I would ask that you respect my choice as I respect your choice to disagree with me on this issue. I bear no malice towards anyone involved."

(Click here to read the complete letter)

Tuesday Lexington School District Five issued a statement through Director of Community Services Buddy Price.

It says, "The federal law known as the Equal Access Act does not permit the school to discriminate against a club based on the club's purpose and viewpoint by not allowing it to form unless the purpose of the club is unlawful."

Wednesday, the district followed up with a statement from spokesperson Michelle Foster.

"Attorneys have advised the school district that prohibiting the formation of this club would most certainly result in a costly lawsuit ... The only other recourse the school district would have would be to eliminate all non-curricular clubs all together."

WIS News 10 broke the story at 11:00pm Tuesday. By Wednesday morning CNN featured our story, and national groups started commenting on the resignation.

"It is a shame that the principal at Irmo High School in South Carolina decided to place religion-based bigotry and discrimination over his former commitment to his students and staff," said Faith In America Executive Director Brent Childers.

(Click here to read Childers' complete statement)

Irmo parents and students are also talking.

"We are not putting them like, 'ugh. You know you're lepers.' But we have to stand for what our foundation of our nation was about," says parent Brenda Enoch.

Enoch supports Walker's decision to resign. She feels the formation of the Gay/Straight Alliance club would lower values in schools that parents have fought hard to achieve.

"You stand up for what you believe in. Your principles. Don't try to change others," she says. "He has to stand for what he believes in. And if he stands for what he believes in, then yes. I feel it's just."

Ashlei Tate, who graduated from a high school in Glorida with a Gay/Straight Alliance club, compares banning groups like the GSA to racial segregation of the past.

"Everyone has equal rights. We shouldn't discriminate from what they need to do," says Ashlei Tate. "People used to make fun of and beat up gay people, just because they were different. This is actually a program to make everyone feel that they belong."

We spoke with the president of a similar club at USC, who says the formation of the club should be viewed as an outlet to help young teens express their sexual preference.

We also spoke with another parent who said Principal Walker should have had his way and never allowed the club to form.

Lexington Five officials have not announced when they will begin searching for a new principal for the 2009-2010 school year.

Copyright 2000 - 2008 WorldNow and WISTV

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I'm impressed with the Irmo, South Carolina school district that is allowing a GSA club to be formed at the high school. I'm also impressed by the POV expressed with the comments of Ashlei Tate who expressed support for the GSA.

Things ARE changing for the better. Hate and discrimination are being replaced by acceptance or at least by tolerance, and young people are the ones leading this change.

Way to go, Irmo High School! Thanks for the post, E.J.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I find myself in the rather odd position of standing up for the principal, Eddie Walker. Only in this one aspect: he found himself faced with a dilemma: the school's new decision to set up a GSA conflicted with his personal moral code. In response, rather than go all pugilistic about it, he did the right thing - he withdrew. He accepted the rights of others to follow their morals which conflicted with his, and took the peaceable action to separate himself from the situation he found morally unacceptable. If we are to truly embrace diversity we must accept that some of that diversity will be so far removed from our own way of life that we may find we cannot work with it. In that case accepting adversity will mean withdrawing, and not whipping up the hair-trigger emotions of others into conflict by fighting it. I thought the quoted passage from Mr Walker's letter, ending that he bore no malice to anyone, remarkably conciliatory. The views quoted of some parents on the other hand....

Bruin

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Of course the man was morally consistent, and yes, he did show some character by not fighting a battle he wouldn't have won and in so doing wasted funds better spent on education in his district. Most people in his position aren't quite as honorable as he was in resigning the way he did, and with stating his reasons for the world to see.

The problem I have with him is he showded something that is galling in an educator. He showed personal biases that distorted his view of the world, and then was entirely intransigent about them. He made the decision that allowing a club that would support alternate lifesyle children would lead to them having sex with each other, and as he was for abstinence, that was against his principles. So he quit.

Does anyone else have a problem with this position? Does he really think teens in his school are not having sex with each other, no matter what emphasis his sex education classes have? If his reason for quitting is really that he doesn't want to be part of anything that encourages teens to have sex, then a GSA is a strange thing to pick on. School dances are much more likely to be the font of frisky behavior than any school club.

The purpose of this club was not to encourage its members to go out and have sex with each other. It was to let them get together and share experiences and find fellows walking the same path as each other were, to find they were not alone, something very important to teens. If by meeting other kids who had common problems or attitudes or feelings that means they'll have sex with each other, this convoluted thinking should also be cause to cancel the chess club or the photography club, shouldn't it? Those clubs promote their memebers having sex together, don't they? Well, neither does the GSA.

Yes, the man did the honorable thing by quitting. His letter showed he was unfit to be a high school principal. What I would have preferred him doing rather than praying and quitting, however, was to give the matter some thought, talk to some other principals who have these clubs in their schools, realize his beliefs were different from those of other educators in many regards and posssibly not best for a mixed group of youngsters, and perhaps learn (what a word for an educator) that his religious views shouldn't affect how he does his job, that religion and school shouldn't be mixed, and that his very narrowly proscribed world-view can be the cause of problems and certainly doesn't help, and in fact did a disservice to, the kids who were in his care.

C

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Guest Fritz

Right on Cole. While he handled his prejudices better than many, the fact that he allowed them to dictate how he responded shows his unfitness to be principal of that school. I'm left with mixed emotions on him because I can admire his willingness to follow his beliefs, yet condemn his narrow mindedness. And while his letter was conciliatory, there will be some bigots who will make things worse by siding with him in the belief that GSA should not be allowed and that it is the gays who drove him out. It appears to me (although I could be and hope that I am very wrong on this) that he is attempting to have the best of both worlds by appearing magnanimous while still getting his message against GSA across.

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Irmo High principal quitting over Gay-Straight Alliance

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...

"The formation of this club conflicts with my professional beliefs in that we do not have other clubs at Irmo High school based on sexual orientation, sexual preference, or sexual activity. In fact our sex education curriculum is abstinence based. I feel the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Irmo High school implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes. ...

OK. At first this guy seems to be just doing the honourable thing in a conflict of interest situation...but...wait a minute.

this club conflicts with my professional beliefs in that we do not have other clubs at Irmo High school based on sexual orientation, sexual preference, or sexual activity

Now, I hate to kick a man when he's down but this is actually word salad. It explains exactly nothing unless we believe his professional beliefs involve the specificity that "if the high school I teach at has no club based on sexual orientation, sexual preference or sexual activity, then it shall be wrong for my high school to have such a club". I'm guessing he didn't mean that but just isn't very articulate. Moreover, isn't the point of a Gay/Straight Alliance that it isn't based on sexuality as such, but rather on solidarity with people of all sexualities and fostering respect for their rights? Maybe I just missed out, but the alliance at my school didn't involve any sexual activity. The idea that this club's existence implies that (and I love this phrase...) "students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes" is boggling! Isn't it a fair bet, implied just by their being humans, that many of the students at his high school are going to have sex sometime? Is it genuinely possible to advance so far in a career as an educationalist and yet believe that a GSA is a polysexual hook up club?

I find this incomprehensible really. He seems to imply that it is some implication of sexual activity caused by the creation of a GSA that is the source of his conflict but a moment spent educating himself would surely have reassured him that GSAs just aren't about sex fundamentally. The stuff about clubs being based on sexual preference doesn't make much sense however you read it. I mean, let's face it - nobody is going to set up a Straight Support Club in most schools - the status quo pretty much provides that - and GSAs are not set up on the basis of sexuality anyway.

This guy seems deeply confused.

Yak

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This is one way that the USA is streets better than the UK. The separation of religion from the state means that they don't have state run and taxpayer paid for 'faith schools' where you only feel at home if your religion is that of the faith that runs the school.

In the UK one consequence is that many politicians (eg Tony Blair) are very hypocritical and do not follow the tenets of their religion. In a way I welcome that because when society as a whole is tolerant the government does not make intolerant laws - well mostly not. And so we can still do some medical research here that you can't do in the USA (except secretly).

So I welcome the guy's resignation because I think his religion ought to disqualify him from teaching in a state school. I just wish the same rule applied here!

Love,

Anthony

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This is one way that the USA is streets better than the UK. The separation of religion from the state means that they don't have state run and taxpayer paid for 'faith schools' where you only feel at home if your religion is that of the faith that runs the school.

I agree with the principle you state - no state run faith schools, but I'm not sure that the reality of UK vs US is as you say it is. Even without official sanction, I have heard that there can be enormous religious pressure brought to bear on students in US schools. Of course, I was lucky - I was in the French system. ;-).

In the UK one consequence is that many politicians (eg Tony Blair) are very hypocritical and do not follow the tenets of their religion. In a way I welcome that because when society as a whole is tolerant the government does not make intolerant laws - well mostly not. And so we can still do some medical research here that you can't do in the USA (except secretly).

So I welcome the guy's resignation because I think his religion ought to disqualify him from teaching in a state school. I just wish the same rule applied here!

Love,

Anthony

You want to apply a religious qualification for teachers in state schools? I think I'm opposed to that! I don't believe in regulating people's thought. The standard shouldn't be what people believe but how they behave! Who would you trust to conduct the inquisition into prospective teachers' beliefs? The *government*? I wouldn't!

Yak

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I agree with the principle you state - no state run faith schools, but I'm not sure that the reality of UK vs US is as you say it is. Even without official sanction, I have heard that there can be enormous religious pressure brought to bear on students in US schools. Of course, I was lucky - I was in the French system. ;-).

Well, I live in what's considered to be the bible belt, and in the same city where Pat Robertson broadcasts the 700 club, and I can say that I've never dealt with religious pressure. On the other hand, I was given detention in the 7th grade for telling my english teacher that Christianity was not "Christian Mythology," which is what she wanted us to call it in her classroom.

You want to apply a religious qualification for teachers in state schools? I think I'm opposed to that! I don't believe in regulating people's thought. The standard shouldn't be what people believe but how they behave! Who would you trust to conduct the inquisition into prospective teachers' beliefs? The *government*? I wouldn't!

Yak

I agree 100% with you on that statement.

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Well, I live in what's considered to be the bible belt, and in the same city where Pat Robertson broadcasts the 700 club, and I can say that I've never dealt with religious pressure. On the other hand, I was given detention in the 7th grade for telling my english teacher that Christianity was not "Christian Mythology," which is what she wanted us to call it in her classroom.

I agree 100% with you on that statement.

Me and Nick live in the same state but, it's nothing like that up here, Where there's no pressure brought on religion. I think he did the right thing by stepping down. although him still saying there just going to have sex in these meetings, what some of those parents said is redicous, when your an educator, you do not not your religious beliefs first, or how you conduct a class.

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My alma mater continues to gay bash

Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo, co-anchor of Good Morning Carolina

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A decade ago, and for years before that, Irmo High School in suburban Columbia was one of the best schools in South Carolina. That may not sound like much based on the state of education in the Palmetto State. But back in the day, Irmo was as good as any school in the country. We were always at or near the top of the state in test scores and other school grades. Our academic competition teams routinely competed for national titles. Our athletic teams were among the best in the state. Our faculty was among the best and brightest you could find, and so, in turn, were the students. Graduating from Irmo, you knew you were prepared for college and the real world beyond.

Today, though, my alma mater makes headlines for all the wrong reasons it seems. The latest black eye came earlier this week when the school's principal announced he would leave when his contract expires at the end of the 2008-09 school year. All because he had to allow a club for gay students at his school. In a letter to "Irmo Nation" (whatever that is) Eddie Walker claims it's because allowing such a club conflicts with professional and religious beliefs. He also writes that based on the school's sex ed policy of teaching abstinence, "I feel the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Irmo High school implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes."

I'll bet the school also preaches healthy diets. So will the Spanish Club have to disband because members make flan? I don't know Eddie Walker, so I can't speak to what kind of man or educator he is. But I question his reasoning and the life lessons of acceptance, tolerance and even logic he is displaying to impressionable young minds. Sir, I can guarantee there are members of the football team, the cheerleading squad and the debate team who "will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes." Guarantee.

This latest bit of negative attention is bad enough. But it's even worse when you consider other bad press. For instance 10 years ago this month Walker's predecessor made another anti-gay statement of sorts. The school won a national competition that earned it a free concert on campus from the Indigo Girls. When some parents called principal Gerald Witt and complained that the Indigo Girls were (GASP!) lesbians, Witt cancelled the concert, drawing unwanted attention from media across the country and beyond. I know Gerald Witt. My senior year was his first year as principal, and I admired and respected the changes, especially in attitude and pride, he made early on. And when he retired from the job a few years ago, I wrote to him and told him how much I respected him and the difference he made in my experience as a student. But even though I had already graduated, I certainly lost respect for the way he handled the Indigo Girls.

On a different note, two years ago Irmo was the center of attention again for all the wrong reasons, after local investigators say they foiled a plot by gang members to fight at an Irmo football game. Gangs and violence just were not something we worried about at Irmo years ago. Once upon a time, the worst thing that could be said about Irmo was that one of our distinguished alums was Donna Rice, the young woman who led to the unravelling of Gary Hart's presidential campaign and political career. But times change, I guess.

But back to the issue at hand now. Where have we come as a society that the leader of a public school thinks it's worth his job to oppose an act of inclusion? How does something like this happen twice at one school that was once known for being a leader in education? It disturbs me that we are still at a point where adults act like this in front of children. I respect Walker's personal beliefs. But they should be just that. And again, his rationalization of his professional beliefs as an excuse make me wonder if he is fit to continue as principal the last few days of this school year let alone all of next year.

The fact of the matter is that in every school there are going to be homosexual students. And you can bet that in most cases, it is not an easy experience for them. The goal of all clubs and activities in schools is to give young people a place where they can find themselves, find acceptance, find out who they are. I know when I was a student we had a chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where students could come together and share their religious faith far more openly than they may feel comfortable in other school settings. Why shouldn't gay students have the same opportunity? I'm fairly sure if this club had been around when I was a student, friends who later came out would have had a better experience in high school.

Schools are not just places for students to learn reading, writing and 'rithmetic. It is also a place where they learn right and wrong, where they learn to be functional members of society. What I'm learning from Eddie Walker is that if a particular group of people offends your personal beliefs you should stand up and oppose them. OK. Fine. But I'm also learning that apparently you should cower behind excuses to explain away your own narrow-mindedness, confusion or even hatred instead of seeing if there's even a chance to get along.

"I don?t intend to make a big deal out of this," Walker wrote in his letter. "Let?s get it over quick (sic) so we can close this year and have a great 2008-2009 school year. I intend to work with you and our students to make 2008-2009 the best year in our illustrious history. It is very important to me that the club sponsor and all students who join this club receive Golden Rule treatment from everyone."

Golden Rule treatment? As in treat others as you would like to be treated? Fine. I think plenty of people will be happy to act out against what you believe in.

Copyright ? 2008 Morris Network Inc. & WWAY-TV

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