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Friday, November 23rd, 2012

School says it did not deny gay alliance


By William Kincaid
CELINA - Contrary to reports in the national media that Celina High School is not allowing the formation of a gay-straight alliance, no student has even asked about applying for such an organization, superintendent Jesse Steiner says.
In fact, Steiner said if an application for a gay-straight alliance were submitted and met the conditions required for the creation of a student group, it would be approved.
The website State Impact, an online news site of NPR and members stations in eight states, reported that 16-year-old Celina High School student Eric Warner created an online petition to start a gay-straight alliance at the school. The petition on Change.org accumulated 166,996 signatures.
The petition recently has been removed and an apology to school administrators issued instead.
State Impact on Wednesday reported that Warner said, "It would be really nice to attend an Ohio high school as accepting as the one we see on (television series) GLEE, but the reality is that Celina High School, like many small town schools, isn't very accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students."
Warner also reportedly said students who wore shirts in support of homosexuality were threatened with suspensions.
Steiner said that is inaccurate.
"It is important to know that (Celina schools) has not threatened or taken disciplinary action against any of these students," Steiner said.
Warner wrote in his apology on Change.org, "This whole petition was a misunderstanding. I was misinformed by my peers and was led to believe things that weren't true."
Warner also wrote that no threat of suspension or detention was faced by students who wore rainbow shirts. He also stated that no one had asked to start the group.
" I would also like to personally apologize to (administrators) Phil Metz, Jason Luebke and Jessie Steiner for this misunderstanding," Warner said. "It got way out of my control. They are not bad people. In fact, they are very great people. They promote a positive environment for learning and only took the actions necessary to protect our learning environment. The administration at Celina High School is not bigoted, they are good people with good intentions."
Warner did not return calls for comment.
Steiner acknowledged that Warner may have had good intentions.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Steiner said the district had received emails and media inquiries about the post on Change.org and the nature of the questions indicated there was a number of misconceptions about the district's stand on the formation of a student-sponsored gay-straight alliance.
"The truth about the Celina city school district and the Celina community is that it is full of good and caring people," the press release said. "When it comes to student acceptance and bullying, the Celina city school district is proud of its record. We also work hard to make sure that every student gets the best possible education, and we will continue to work with students, parents and the community to make Celina City Schools the best it can be."
The issue of gay rights was ignited earlier this month when high school administrators would not allow students to wear T-shirts with pro-gay sentiments.
Assistant principal Phil Metz had said the shirts posed a distraction to learning.
"A shirt like that draws undue attention," he had said. "We're here to focus on academics, not choices in sexuality."
The students opposed Metz's decision, saying their shirts posed no more of a distraction than shirts other students wore endorsing Right to Life and political causes. Students since then reportedly have been allowed to wear the pro-gay shirts.
The press release issued by Steiner on Wednesday was created by a public relations firm hired by the school. Steiner said he hired the firm because the topic at hand was sensitive.
"It was really just to set the record straight," he said.
Steiner did not respond to a request for the cost of the PR firm's services.
Board of education member Ken Fetters said board members were made aware that Steiner intended to hire the firm. He did not know how much it cost.
"We have authorized (Steiner) to spend a certain amount of money at his discretion," Fetters said.
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