Nyssa students mull alliance against bullying

NYSSA—To stem bullying on campus, students at Nyssa High School have considered forming a queer-straight student alliance, but interest has since waned.

The student clubs provide a place where kids can talk about issues without feeling marginalized, according to Melissa Vargas, Nyssa school counselor.

Studies suggest a gay-straight student alliance club can help reduce bullying, improve health outcomes and lessen the risk of suicide.

During a Nyssa School Board work session on Oct. 3, Brett Jackman, principal of Nyssa High School, told the board that a small group of students approached Vargas about being the adviser for a queer-straight student alliance club. The board took no action.

For students to start a club on campus, Jackman said, they must have a minimum of 15 student signatures and an adviser. So far, he said, the students do not have enough signatures to complete the application. According to Jackman, another part of the process is that the club must get school board approval.

Meanwhile, with the students still working on the application, Jackman provided the board with “talking points” covering the student club’s goals.

Jackman told the members that when he went through queer-straight alliance material, he thought, “I don’t know about this.”

However, he said, reading over the group’s first goal, about promoting better understanding among LGBTQ+ individuals and other students to build better mental health, more cohesive school culture and inclusion, he found himself coming around to the idea.

“Do we want more unity? Do we want less bullying? Do we want more cohesion? I’m thinking, yes, “Jackman said. “Now, do I want students to be promoting a lifestyle on another student? No. But that’s not what they’re saying here.”

Jackman added that students are not required to participate in the club.

Vargas added that she had not promoted the idea of the student-run club and that she first thought students were looking to start a support group.

Vargas said students told her they had been asking for some type of support group for more than a year. She said being an advisor to such a group would be appropriate in her role as a counselor.

She said some students reported they had been the target of bullying and negative comments.

Cindy Ramos, a board member, said they might need to have a discussion with some of the parents.

Vargas said in a subsequent email on Monday, Oct. 16, that the students would likely not start the club, citing a lack of interest. However, she said, the students also want to avoid the “additional attention” brought by having the club discussed at the school board meeting and then reported by the Enterprise.

Ryan Hawkins, Nyssa’s interim superintendent, said the purpose of discussing the potential student-run club was to make it clear to the community that nobody at the school was pushing an agenda onto the students and that any club must meet specific criteria to be established.

“Any organization that meets the criteria we’re going to support 100%,” Hawkins said. ” I don’t want people to think there is an agenda.”

Topics surrounding LGBTQ+ – which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning – have become a lightning rod for controversy on school campuses and touch on divisive debates around education, religion, parent and student rights.

Jackman said the “talking points” tell him what the group is and what it’s not and “prevents the “negative emotional reaction some people can have” about having the club on campus.

Vargas said the benefit of the students forming a club is that they can receive funding and qualify for grants. Operating as a support group, she said, would allow them to meet once a week. The funding, she said, would fund activities and trips.

Meantime, Vargas said students had experienced an adverse reaction from those opposed to the club once word got out that they were moving to form the queer-straight alliance.

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