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‘Gayest Dance’ proponents renew criticism of district

Proponents of a dance recently forced to relocate from Ferris High School told the Spokane Public Schools board Wednesday that the decision sent a message that gay and lesbian students aren’t supported by the district.

On Feb. 10, the district informed the organizers of the Gayest Valentine’s Dance, which was scheduled for the following day, that Ferris could not host the event. Superintendent Brian Benzel said the dance’s age limits of 14 to 22 caused safety concerns.

“Even though we have previously sponsored the event, we cannot continue to do so for the ages noted due to liability and security issues,” Benzel wrote in an e-mail to high school principals.

The dance, which was sponsored by Odyssey Youth Center and the district’s equity office, was moved to Spokane Falls Community College.

About 20 people critical of the decision spoke Wednesday to a packed room of more than 75. Some accused the district of lying about why the dance was moved. Others said the late notice was disrespectful and showed that gay students aren’t safe in Spokane schools.

“There were so many people who worked for this that wanted it to happen,” said Lauren Viau, a Ferris junior. “People wanted to go to this and couldn’t. That has alienated students. They no longer feel appreciated. They no longer feel wanted in the Spokane Public Schools.”

Board President Barb Richardson said the board stands behind the decision but regrets the miscommunication that caused the late notice and forced move. She said future Odyssey dances will be welcome at district buildings. Richardson agreed to set up a meeting between herself, Benzel and Odyssey Executive Director Laurel Kelly.

“We did what we felt was best for students,” Richardson said. “We feel horribly about the timing.”


 

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