DES MOINES, Iowa – The Johnston School Board approved a Turning Point USA (TPUSA) chapter for Johnston High School on Monday by a 5 to 2 vote.
Katie Fiala, Alicia Clevenger, Deb Davis, Clint Evans, and Derek Tidball voted to recognize the group.
Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher and Jennifer Chamberland voted against recognizing the group.
Two seniors at Johnston High School wanted to start a chapter of the national conservative organization at the school.
At their last meeting, the school board decided to delay a vote on recognizing TPUSA until the students involved provided TPUSA’s constitution and bylaws.
TPUSA works with high school and college students “to spread the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”
Several Johnston parents have urged the school board not to recognize the group because they deem TPUSA a “hate group.”
During the public comment period of the meeting, critics pointed out that the students did not provide the organization’s bylaws as required by district policy for student groups affiliated with an off-campus organization.
“I appreciate the work that was done. I just want to clarify that bylaws are required by law for a national organization such as Turning Point USA. And as it’s been brought up many times, that’s public information and could have easily been obtained if an attempt was made by the applicant. So I just want to throw that out there,” Chamberland said during the board discussion. “It’s frustrating that we’re going to go ahead and vote without still having that documentation.”
However, that policy was not enforced for other student groups affiliated with an off-campus group, Tidball pointed out.
“I’m looking over the Department of Education legal guidelines for the Equal Access Act for student recognized groups. And the last bullet point that they provide for guidance. The act requires the school to treat each group like other similarly situated groups and prohibits imposing additional requirements on some student-run groups that are not imposed on all others. And if we’re going to do this, then I do not see how we can legally allow March for Our Lives or other groups to continue to meet or be considered clubs in this district when they have not met this. We are holding one club to another standard,” he said.
Mangra-Dutcher interjected that it wasn’t the current board that approved those groups without the required documentation.
Tidball said that didn’t matter.
“I don’t think (we) have the right to go back and say to a club that was already approved, ‘you can no longer meet, because a board two years ago approved you and didn’t follow policy,'” Mangra-Dutcher responded.
“This policy is not something that applies at the very same time that we’re okaying somebody. It applies to all clubs that are currently meeting,” Tidball argued.
Chamberland said she agreed with both Tidball and Mangra-Dutcher and said they could hold a special board meeting to discuss suspending all clubs affiliated with an off-campus group until the paperwork requirement was met, but they could not vote on that during Monday’s meeting since it was not an action item on the agenda.
Davis echoed Tidball’s remarks.
“So I think we have to be careful with the Federal Equal Access Act to not hold one group to a higher standard than other clubs,” she said.
Tidball reiterated that denying TPUSA student group status based on missing bylaws that were not required from similar groups violates the Equal Access Act.
Lucas Gorsh, one of the students who applied to start the TPUSA chapter, said TPUSA staff told him they do not have national bylaws.
“I’m telling you that from the people that work at Turning Point USA that I have contacted, they have told me that there (are) no bylaws, they have provided me a mission statement that I have submitted to you guys. That’s all I have,” he said.
Gorsh said he was concerned about further delays because they are drawing close to the end of the school year and his graduation.
TPUSA does provide a sample constitution and bylaws for chapters to adapt to their needs.
“I’m tired of this. I’m flat-out tired of this. I just want to get this done with,” Gorsh said.
The board initially entertained an amendment to the original motion to vote to approve TPUSA that would have required the school board to have a special meeting within 48 hours to provide more time for TPUSA to collect bylaws and to discuss the status of groups that have not met this requirement.
After a brief recess, Evans withdrew his motion to amend the initial motion, and the board voted to approve TPUSA’s application without further discussion.