BOISE – The House Education Committee approved a bill from Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, that would place more restrictions on school clubs and organizations. They gave it a do-pass recommendation on Thursday and sent it to the second reading calendar in the House.
The legislative session as of Friday is on pause due to a rise in COVID-19 infections in the Capitol. The session will resume April 6.
The intent of Ehardt’s bill is to ensure students are not participating in school clubs or club events without their parents’ permission. School boards would have to put in place policies and procedures for approving clubs and organizations. School boards would be required to annually approve and publish a list of all school clubs, along with their descriptions, advisers, past activities and planned activities. School boards would notify parents about this list and provide parents with a form through which they can “give or withhold permission for the student to participate.” Students would not be allowed to join a club without this form.
Ehardt said the bill is about both parental consent and protecting schools from liability.
“Unfortunately, we have clubs, many clubs, popping up on our high school campuses, probably even our junior highs. These clubs are undefined, but they are often under the guise of the high school. Even the high schools themselves may not recognize the clubs as an official club,” Ehardt said.
Committee members asked for examples illustrating the need for such a bill.
Ehardt said she was first alerted to the need for this bill when multiple parents from “up north” were upset to find out their children had unknowingly joined a club that did “activist activities.” It created an “uproar,” according to Ehardt.
“The parents were uninformed and not happy. That would be a kind way of explaining how they felt about the students’ involvement,” she said.
Ehardt described two other incidents. One involved a club of students and its adult adviser leaving an Idaho Falls school to do a service project. According to Ehardt, a parent was upset that neither she nor the principal had not known about the service project outing. Another involved an Idaho Falls school in which students formed an unofficial club that an athletic director “found out about” and “absolutely put a kibosh on it immediately, saying, ‘This is not something our school is sanctioning.’ ”
Ehardt declined to offer specifics about the schools or the clubs’ content. She said that would be “wrong” and these were things described to her in “private conversations.”
Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, argued this bill would not stop students from “getting together anyway, maybe not on school grounds.”
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