Prairie View sophomore Wylie Teagarden speaks to the USD 362 school board about starting a conservative club affiliated with Turning Point USA as club sponsor Gretl Shelton watches during a meeting on Sept. 12. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)
LA CYGNE – A request by a Prairie View High School sophomore to allow a conservative political organization to have meetings on school property prompted a closed-door session with the Prairie View USD 362 Board of Education and an attorney on Monday, Sept.12.
Wylie Teagarden, daughter of Board Chair Wade Teagarden, made the presentation asking to allow students to form a chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA). According to the slide show Teagarden presented, TPUSA is “on a mission to build the most organized, active, and powerful conservative activist network on high school and college campuses across the country.”
Wylie Teagarden, who was accompanied by Prairie View Middle School teacher Gretl Shelton who has volunteered to sponsor the club, said that the group had already done some things for Kansas gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt and had attended a watch party where they met Amanda Adkins, a candidate for the U.S. House from District 3.
“I’ve always enjoyed public speaking and politics,” she said, adding that TPUSA would provide added opportunities along those lines.
At the end of her presentation, Board Member Brian Uphoff apologized to Teagarden. “‘I’m going to ask you a few difficult questions,” he said.
He said that TPUSA on its website publishes a list of school boards that don’t allow the club to form in their districts. “If we don’t approve your club, are we going to be on that list?” He asked.
Teagarden said she wasn’t sure.
Uphoff went on to note that the organization also publishes names of professors and civil rights leaders who are opposed to the organization.
Superintendent Rex Bollinger asked why she wanted to organize a TPUSA club instead of a young Republicans or young conservative club.
She responded that the national organization offered more opportunities for its members.
The board discussed whether the club would be a school-sponsored club or a club that is allowed to meet in the school without a paid sponsor. The high school has several clubs that meet regularly that don’t have a paid sponsor. Those groups include SPEAK, a animal-kindness club; the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; the Library Club; and in the past, the Chess Club.
Uphoff noted that, as a school club, it was required to allow anyone to be a member, including students who didn’t necessarily share the club’s goals, which could lead to disruption.
High school Principal Joe Hornbeck told the board that he would prefer to have a Young Democrats Club and a Young Republicans Club. “If we could rustle up a couple of Democrats in the county, that would be nice,” he said.
He added that he didn’t have a problem with the club, adding that he thought it was a good thing to allow students to discuss political issues.
On Uphoff’s prompting, the board met in closed session via teleconference with legal representation from the Kansas Association of School Boards in Topeka at the end of the meeting. The series of extended executive sessions on the subject went on for well over an hour, and the board took no action on the proposal before adjourning.
In a separate interview on Friday, Uphoff listed several problems that approving the TPUSA club could raise.
He noted that school policy prohibited school staff from using school property to promote the interests of any political party, the campaign of any political candidate or the advocacy of any political issue. (That policy, GAHB, can be found by clicking here.)
In addition to reports of the TPUSA organization scamming students to raise money for the organization, he said it also keeps lists of school districts that run afoul the organizations goals (those include the Shawnee Mission; Kansas City, Kan.; Topeka; Wichita; Manhattan-Ogden; Gardner-Edgerton; and Olathe school districts).
However, Uphoff said that if the district allows a political organization like TPUSA, which residents in the school district would favor, the board could not refuse to accept a more liberal-leaning club from asking for the same recognition.
That would create a dilemma for the board if the community was against the new club, but the board could be sued for discrimination if it wasn’t allowed, he said. “I’m just trying to protect the board,” he added.