Original story by The Fresno Bee’s Laura Diaz.
The following is a summary:
The Clovis school board is gearing up for a vote this evening, one that could revoke previous permissions granted to external organizations to utilize school facilities for meetings and events. In prior meetings, the board had given the green light for various groups such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Good News Club to use district facilities.
However, this move to exclude previously approved groups from accessing these facilities is causing a stir, with local LGBTQ activist Jason Scott attributing it to his organization, LGBT Community Network, also seeking permission to use district spaces. Scott, who serves as the executive director of the LGBTQ group and is a parent of a student in the Clovis school district, expressed his frustration at the district’s handling of his multiple requests over the past 11 months.
The district had informed his non-profit that their request would be put to a vote at tonight’s meeting. Curiously, policies were updated on September 14th to completely shutdown external group access to district facilities, a stark reversal from the previous approvals granted at meetings held on August 16 and September 6. Notably, Scott’s request for space utilization is conspicuously absent from the agenda.
Scott expressed his disappointment in the district’s inability to adhere to legal requirements, emphasizing that if the district opens its facilities for rent, it should be accessible to any interested party. If the Wednesday agenda item passes, six groups that had previously secured permission to use these facilities, if the board votes no, all religious before and after school programs will continue to operate, for a second time, without the LGBTQ group being granted access.
Scott’s aim is to host an “inclusive story hour” that includes LGBTQ representation at an elementary school attended by his son.
His initial attempt to reserve space in November 2022 was met with a response that the facility use policy had changed, affecting his request. He persistently reached out to district staff and submitted another reservation request this month. He eventually contacted the district’s superintendent and assistant superintendent to highlight the issue, leading to the determination that the matter would be decided at the Wednesday meeting.
In response to inquiries regarding Scott’s group and facility use policies, Kelly Avants, the spokesperson for the Clovis district, explained that the policy now restricts external group facility use from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The change was made in response to a request from a private citizen for a review of the district’s practices and policies. Avants noted that the recent case-by-case assessment for reservations had proven unsuccessful, leading to resource and scheduling conflicts that diverted attention from students’ needs.
Scott, who became aware of religious groups using school facilities through his child, decided to follow suit and rent space at the school. However, the district suspended all facility rentals during last year’s winter break, citing updated procedures.
Clovis Unified’s Administrative Regulation for Board Policy 1330, detailing facility use procedures, underwent multiple amendments throughout the previous year, with the most recent update in September. Scott was informed of the presentation of his facility use request at the upcoming board meeting through emails on September 7 and 13.
A district administrator informed Scott on Monday that his request would not be discussed at Wednesday’s board meeting, citing a policy limiting weekday reservations while school is in session to start no earlier than 6 p.m. Scott expressed frustration, believing that the district was circumventing the process to deny space to LGBT Community Network while granting it to other groups.
The fate of previously approved reservations for other organizations will also be subject to the board’s vote.
As he puts it, “It’s been a very David versus Goliath fight because I am just one person. I have tried to do things the right way and follow the process set by the district and have just gotten pushback every step of the way.”
Religious groups can also request facility reservations for temporary religious services, with applicable fees. However, these fees do not apply to district-sponsored activities involving district students. Among the groups with the most approved reservations, two religious organizations, the Good News Club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, stand out.
The Good News Club, an after-school program for children aged 5-12, has 303 reservations across district elementary schools for the school year. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which promotes athletes playing for religious purposes, has 161 reservations across district schools. The district did not respond to specific questions regarding the LGBT Community Network’s request for facility use and fee waivers for these religious organizations, among others.
The Clovis school board convenes on Wednesday evenings, with the public portion of meetings commencing at 6:30 p.m. at 1680 David E. Cook Way in Clovis. The public has the opportunity to address the board during the public comment section or during discussions of agenda items before the board votes.