HAMLET — A college club was denied a charter Monday after failing to meet an extended deadline to recruit at least 10 members.
Students of Richmond Early College High School say the club would have met the goal had they been allowed to be members.
The college’s chapter of the LGBT Straight Alliance, while only having one member who was a full-time college student, was popular among REaCH students who were allowed to attend the club meetings by the club’s adviser at the beginning of the fall semester.
However, their attendance was the result of a miscommunication between that adviser, who declined to comment for this story, and Dr. Tonya Waddell, the principal of REaCH, who has veto power over whether early college students can join a club or organization at RCC, according to Dr. Dale McInnis, college president.
Briana Goins, public information officer for Richmond County Schools, said Waddell did not give the REaCH students permission to participate in the club because it would be “inappropriate” due to the age difference between the them and the RCC students.
“Some of our students are 14 years old and we do not feel it is appropriate for them to socialize with adults who are far older and more mature,” Goins said.
Two ninth-grade students alleged that Waddell went further in comments made roughly three weeks ago after she pulled them aside in the hallway and stopped them from attending a club meeting. One of the students who was pulled aside, who wished to remained anonymous, said the principal told them they were “too young” to know if they were queer or not, that their “sexuality did not meet the guidelines” for the club, and that they were “just confused.”
“I kind of already know what I am,” the student said. “It wasn’t morally right, I don’t think, for her to do that.”
Waddell did not confirm or deny that she made these comments, but said in a statement through Goins that, “if our Early College students wanted to form an LGBT Straight Alliance Club for high school students only, they were welcome to do so.”
Dr. Dale McInnis, president of RCC, said that the college considers REaCH students to be students at RCC as well but, “from a disciplinary standpoint and from a policy standpoint they are first and foremost high school students under the authority of the public school system.”
McInnis said that though he had no knowledge of what Waddell said to the students in question, he vouched for her character, saying she has “provided great leadership to her school and compassion for her students during her service.” Waddell has been principal of REaCH for two years.
“I regret the confusion created by our college’s failure to more quickly enforce her decision regarding her students,” McInnis said. “We appreciate our great partnership with Richmond County Schools and are all committed to the academic success and personal development of every student in our very diverse college.”
Tate Diaz, an 11th-grade student in REaCH who attended the club’s early meetings, said that the club adviser made it clear that he would not bar any student from attending and that it was meant to be a “safe place for students to come and have someone to support them.”
“The club is welcoming to any and all students,” Diaz said in a Facebook message. “To the students, (not being allowed to attend) was (an) infringement on their basic rights.”
McInnis said that Waddell was unaware that REaCH students were still attending the meetings even after notifying the adviser multiple times that they were not permitted to do so.
“I think the biggest misunderstanding was on the part of our adviser who didn’t understand the language (in the policy)…and I think the perception was that they couldn’t ‘join’ but their participation in the meeting was not prohibited,” McInnis said.
RCC’s student organization membership policy states that, “Early College…students should have permission from the principal of their respective school in order to participate or join a Richmond Community College club or organization.”
The policy does not specify the reasons that a principal can give for not allowing early college students to join a club. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation at all schools receiving federal funds.
“Our position was Dr. Wadell has the authority over those students, she exercised that and we recognize, respect and support her authority over those students,” McInnis said.
Diaz said that the club had eight regular attendees, and had more than 10 people at meetings at least once. When asked whether RCC would have allowed the club to continue to operate comprised of mostly REaCH students if Waddell approved, Wiley Bell, director of marketing and communications for RCC, referred to Waddell’s statement that she felt it was “inappropriate” for the students to participate in the club.
There are no other REaCH students who are members of clubs at RCC, though there have been in the past, according to McInnis. He said that if someone tried to start the same club next year, “we would have no problem with it.”
“It would be no different than if you wanted to do a game card club, we would support it the same way and give the same guidance,” McInnis said.
Diaz said that the students are “very upset” about the club being denied a charter and that they are looking for ways to “revive” it.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.