School board approves first ever LGBTQ+ club at Richland Center Schools

A small community at odds initially about an LGBTQ+ group comes to a decision.
Published: Sep. 24, 2022 at 11:14 PM CDT
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RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. (WMTV) - Students and faculty received a vote of approval from the school board to start an LGBTQ+ club at Richland Center schools.

The board voted to allow the formation of a gay and ally alliance club during Monday’s school board meeting after two hours of public comment from the community.

“This club would give students a huge opportunity to grow and connect with one another and to cope with tough situations going on at home,” one student said.

Parents of previous student also spoke in favor of the club, citing that their children struggled without one.

“He was so lonely and isolated,” one mother said in reference to her son who identified with as a queer community member, “He had to eat lunch by himself.”

Some community members spoke against the club, saying students are too young to participate in an LGBTQ+ safe space.

“I oppose an LGTBQ club because it will be grooming students to that confusion,” one woman said.

Richland Center faith leaders quoted the Bible and said the club should not be allowed at school.

Other faith leaders disagreed and used Bible quotes supporting the clubs formation.

Before the final vote, one board member shared that he’d changed his mind since the initial conversation began one month ago based on discussions with the community.

”If somebody is given an opportunity to feel better about themselves, that can’t be a bad thing so I’ve switched my opinion so support their formation,” he said.

Richland High School teacher and librarian Aaron Dettmann will serve as the RCHS Pride-Ally Alliance Club director.

He outlined the club’s mission statement is to create a safe space, allow LGBTQ+ individuals to be themselves, feel normal and learn about queer history.

“I think it’s very important that this club exists too to give students a sense of belonging and feel accepted,” Dettmann said during the meeting.

Richland School District School Board President Erin Unbehaun sent NBC15 News the following statement:

“The Richland School Board has been asked to comment on the Board’s decision to approve a student club for LGBTQ+ students and friends.

The Board is sensitive to the many perspectives on this issue that were shared at our school board meetingon Monday night. We also appreciate the time and effort made by so many to appear before the Board to express their point of view. We appreciate that we may need to evaluate our own club system at some point to make sure that the system is aligned with our educational objectives.

Our school board could not address this matter appropriately, however, if we only considered partisan perspectives. As a school board and as the governing governmental body of a public school district, we must follow the law; as a school district, we are responsible for all students of school age, regardless of their status or identity.

The students that applied for the LGBTQ+ Club followed the same procedures that other club applicants have. They met the same criteria that other successful applicants have met. Consequently, approval was appropriate, because it would be unfair to require this particular group to navigate additional procedures or meet additional requirements that are not imposed on any other group to become a club.

In addition, while all our Board members acted in good faith, denying this application in these circumstances would likely be viewed as prohibited discrimination under state and federal law. The Board would not make a decision that violates discrimination laws and saw no reason to give that impression.”