Johnston School Board Approves Turning Point USA Chapter

Johnston School District

Johnston High School will officially have a Turning Point USA chapter following Monday night’s school board meeting.

The board voted 5-2 to approve Turning Point as an official school-affiliated club. This item was initially presented to the school board on March 8. Monday’s vote was taken after being postponed during the April 11meeting  because the club had not submitted the national group’s constitution or bylaws, which is what Johnston School Board policy requires.

Turning Point still had not provided those materials by Monday but had provided a mission statement instead which was allowed by Johnston Associate Superintendent of Teaching & Learning Nikki Roorda.

Board member Clint Evans defended the omission because other groups approved by past boards weren’t held to the same standard.

The Turning Point USA club had many detractors Monday, including students, parents, and other community members. It met the same opposition at an April 11 meeting.

“Our concerns do not come from a place of hatred or animosity towards conservative ideas, but rather in hopes to protect and maintain the feelings of safety and trust that students of color and students in the LGBTQ+ community have had to fight for in this district,” said Waverly Zhao, a junior at Johnston High School.

Waverly said a lot of the homophobia and racism students have to bear comes from students who have gone to Turning Point meetings.

“A student friend of mine that attended one of the Turning Point meetings out of curiosity said that most of the time was spent discussing how much the members hated gay people,” she said.

There was an existing Turning Point USA group at Johnston, but it wasn’t school sanctioned

Only a few parents spoke in favor of the group being approved. Carin Birt said on April 11 that she hadn’t planned to speakdespite signing up with the board secretary ahead of the meetingbut had to talk about what people were saying at the meeting and online. She said people of color wouldn’t be barred from participating.

“Right now there’s not a place for conservatives to get together,” Birt said. “And as far as I know, a minority can be a conservative right?”

Another parent said her son needs Turning Point to make like-minded friends.

Turning Point USA is a far-right organization that’s generally anti-government and public education. Leaders and individual chapters have long been connected to hate speech, white nationalism, and both the 2020 and early 2021 attempts to overturn the election, including the Jan. 6 insurrection.

It also runs watchlists naming professors and school board members who they claim are silencing conservative voices.

Online, the group frequently posts about schools infringing on parents’ rights, suggesting children are harmed if they know or learn anything about the LGBTQ community, and how Justice Ketanji Brown’s nomination and confirmation was somehow racist.

The group also has been implicated in multiple scams in its short history.

Those who spoke against the group said they don’t care if there’s a conservative group at the school. Their issue is the association with Turning Point USA. Others were further concerned because the president and founder, senior Lucas Gorsh, was approached by conservative parents about starting the chapter at the school. Which he admitted at the March meeting.

Parents of Johnston students said they’ve researched Turning Point and seen what it posts on social media, and are uncomfortable with the group being at their school.

“As a parent, the ideas of this organization having a school-sanctioned club in Johnston is terrifying,” said Kaycee Schippers. “I can’t even imagine how frightening it must be to be the minority and LGBTQ+ students.”

Gorsh and supporters of the group presented the Johnston chapter as an opportunity for conservative students to meet and discuss their ideology in a safe space and a place where they could support each other.

“Our biggest need to bring Turning Point USA to Johnston High School stems from a lack of communication on both sides and all sides,” he said in March. “Our group is aiming to bridge the gap and promote civil discussion on topics which might be seen as polarizing, as well as give a voice to students who agree in the same things as us. Our group will not discriminate, but rather encourage those with differing viewpoints to also get and be involved.”

On the TPUSA website, the Johnston group has this description: “Holding teachers, administrations, and students accountable. Helping stop the spread of socialism and big government in the classroom.”

Gorsh also hosts a podcast—Grand Ole Podcast—where he talks about politics, news, and conservatives being censored. He has had episodes with titles such as “Let’s Go Brandon” and “Transgender is a Problem.” Those episodes are no longer available, on his website or any other podcasting platform.

Shiloh Hillabolt, a sophomore at Johnston High School, said that transphobic attitude and having it emboldened is one of their main concerns.

“I fear every day that I’m going to be jumped as a part of the LGBTQ community,” Shiloh said. “I’m scared and paranoid that these people around me are going to hurt me because of who I am. Is it so hard to ask that a student doesn’t feel threatened or paranoid?”

 

Nikoel Hytrek
4/25/22

 

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