Penn Yan School Board approves Gay Straight Alliance group in academy

Gwen Chamberlain

The Penn Yan School Board approved establishing a Gay Straight Alliance chapter at Penn Yan Academy, but not without some dissenting discussion and three “no” votes last week.

When a group of students requested the board establish the club at a previous meeting, school board member Michael Van Wormer questioned the need for a group with a name that focuses on sexual preferences.

When it came time to vote on the group, he raised more concerns about the group, which he said is a vehicle for indoctrinating young people into a lifestyle.

“The focus needs to be on dignity and respect...for everyone, not just one group,” he said.

Van Wormer said he believes there are organized efforts to put 4,000 clubs in schools around the country. “It’s not about respect. It’s about promoting an agenda,” he said.

Van Wormer also said he feels if the board votes the club down, a lawsuit would be filed against the school and the district would not win in such a case.

But, he said, “We can’t, as a board, support the formation of a club that goes against the values of the majority of the community.”

Board member Anita Maroscher said her fiscal responsibility tells her that if there’s a chance the school district could be forced to defend a decision to not permit the club, and that the district would be likely to lose such a lawsuit, she should support the club. She also noted that 10 percent of the student body signed the petition seeking the addition of the group.

Board members Judy Kirk and Liz Warren cast no votes with Van Wormer, but Nancy Scher, Jeff Morehouse, Maroscher, Kathy Guenther and Deb Warren voted in favor of the group.

Other business on the board’s agenda last week included:

• BUDGET: The board heard reports from Superintendent Ann Orman and Interim business manager Rodger Lewis on the draft 2009-2010 budget (see related stories).

• CAPITAL PROJECT: The board heard a progress report on the capital project from Jim Higgins of LeChase. He said the media wing roof is complete and inside framing of the classrooms in that wing are done. He said the majority of the gymnasium steelwork was complete so workers can begin on the roof in that section.

Higgins said a change order will be needed to complete a stormwater drainage system as required by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Later in the meeting, the board approved a change order in the amount of $58,699 for the system.

• BUSES: The board took no action on recommendations that call for the purchase of three 65 passenger diesel buses, one equipped with a wheelchair station and all equipped with air conditioning; and a lease agreement for one 65-passenger propane gas bus.

The total cost of the recommendation is $345,264.

The board also met in exe cutive session to discuss the employment of a particular person.

The board’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 11 in the Penn Yan Elementary School cafeteria.