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Know your kids' clubs, parents told

Members of a school district task force on student clubs hammered out a set of proposals at a final meeting Thursday.

Their conclusion: Parents have a responsibility to oversee what clubs their children join.

The task force was formed in response to controversy over a Gay-Straight Alliance at Newsome High School. Supporters of the alliance feared the task force would find a way to ban gay clubs.

Task force members did nothing of the sort. Instead, they proposed guidelines to help school administrators govern clubs, without putting restrictions on club content.

Two Newsome parents, Alice Wilkinson and Alan Trovillion, suggested some last-minute changes that would have thrown up obstacles to Gay-Straight Alliances. But the rest of the task force rebuffed them.

One suggestion - that parents be given an "opt out" form to exclude kids from specific clubs - was dismissed as a paperwork nightmare.

With thousands of students and dozens of clubs, "who's going to keep track of this?" asked Maria Gsell, a teacher at Plant City High School.

Instead, the group proposed to piggyback a line onto a statement parents sign each year acknowledging they have read the student handbook.

The proposed addition: "If I don't want my child to participate in a particular club, I will notify the school's administration."

"I think I hear people saying that it's the responsibility of the parent to get involved," said Ken Adum, an area director for the school district who moderated the task force. "Let's put that in writing."

Wilkinson also suggested that "outside organizations" get approval from the School Board before affiliated clubs could be formed.

She cited a clause in the district's regulations that prohibits advertising in schools. Clubs like Young Republicans, Young Democrats, True Love Waits and Amnesty International are a form of advertising for "outside, adult" organizations, Wilkinson said.

She also mentioned the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, or GLSEN.

Wilkinson and Trovillion have argued in the past that GLSEN is using student clubs to spread its own agenda in schools.

The organization's Web site says that it "supports, trains and provides resources" for students organizing Gay-Straight Alliances.

Students from local Gay-Straight Alliances have said that they are not affiliated with GLSEN.

In any case, the other task force members said it would be too cumbersome for each outside organization to gain school board approval.

The guidelines they approved leave such decisions in the hands of school principals.

The proposals will be forwarded to the assistant superintendent for administration, Lewis Brinson, then to superintendent MaryEllen Elia, for review. School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said the board will probably hear a final version of the proposals in March.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or srosenbaum@spttmes.com.

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