Andrea McIlwee. (photo from Board of Ed meeting)

The State Board of Education has denied the challenge of a new student club at Johnston High School. Three parents appealed the school board’s decision to approve a chapter of the conservative Turning Point USA group.

The parents challenging the decision cited procedural moves and how the club would operate. Andrea McIlwee spoke to the board members during their meeting today (Thursday). “This club was not student-initiated. And there are serious questions about the level of control over its operation exerted by the national organization,” she says.

McIlwee says their concern is the process that was used — not the group’s philosophy. “This is not in an effort to prevent school students from being involved with a conservative club. Instead, it is an effort to hold the school accountable to district stakeholders and require them to follow their own policies and federal law,” McIllwee say. She says allowing the decision to stand will have a larger impact on the district. “This club sets a dangerous precedent that renders school board policies unenforceable,” she says.

Carie Weber. (photo from Board of Ed meeting)

A legal review recommended that the Board of Education deny the challenge. The lawyer for the Johnston school district, Carie Weber, urged them to follow the recommendation to deny the challenge. “This board review is narrow and deferential. The board cannot substitute its judgment for that of the Johnston board, nor can it substitute appellants judgment for that of the Johnston board,” Weber says.

Weber asked the Board to consider the appeal in that narrow context. “The appeal is not whether this was a good decision. It’s whether it was supported by reason whether the board followed its policy and adopting this decision, and it cannot be overturned unless it’s unreasonable and contrary to the best interests of education,” she says.

Weber also disputed the claims in the challenge that the school board did not follow proper procedures. She also disputed the idea that the national group would control the club, as it was a student who brought the application forward. “There’s no evidence of coercion or improper persuasion. He decided to file the application, he followed through with the application. It was a student organization, he reassured the board that it would be independent, and then it would be controlled by students and they accepted that statement,” Weber says.

The Board of Education voted unanimously to deny the challenge and uphold the club. The parents must now decide if they will pursue action in court.

Radio Iowa