Advocates: Chambersburg board decision illegal

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Members of the Chambersburg Area School Board voted 5-4 against allowing a gay-straight alliance club at the high school Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, word wasn't just making local headlines in Franklin County, but had spread to gay rights advocates at the state Capitol.

Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, said he and members of the American Civil Liberties Union have contacted school officials about the vote. He said the decision is not just a question of ethics. He said that according to the Federal Equal Access law, the vote is illegal.

“The essence is either there are no clubs or you have to allow the club,” Martin said.

Chambersburg students have been pushing to get the club at the high school for more than a year, even gaining support of Superintendent Dr. Joseph Padasak, who said at a meeting in January, “The Gay-Straight Alliance provides opportunities for students to build friendships and encourages open mindedness in the community.”

Board member Joan Smith voted in support of the club and said she expected the measure to pass Wednesday night.

“I think everybody was stunned,” she said. “There were tears.”

Since the meeting, Smith said she has received several calls and emails about the matter.  Community members have questions as to why Chambersburg did not approve something other area districts already have.

“They just can't believe that this could possibly happen in this town,” she said, “We are bigger than Waynesboro and Shippensburg, and both of those districts have this club.”

Smith was the only school board members to responded to abc27's request for comment.

Advocates said students who are on a quest for acceptance and won't give up are the heroes in this situation.

“These are honest students, honest young people who want to live authentic lives, and we should all respect that,” Martin said.

Martin added that if the board does not reverse the decision, they can expect legal action.

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