The Clovis school board voted to cancel all existing reservations by outside groups to use school facilities, telling a packed room at its late Wednesday meeting that too many groups were crowding out regular student activities during school days.
The facilities use policy, which has changed multiple times over the past year, has become a contentious issue because an LGBTQ+ community group says it was ignored in its quest to rent space for an after-school story hour at an elementary school attended by the child of the group’s director.
Tracy Bohren, a Clovis mother and LGBTQ+ advocate, said during the public comment period that school districts cannot selectively determine who has access to school facilities.
“Yet in the case of Clovis Unified, we see policies being modified to deny the LGBT Community Network rightful access,” she said. “Let’s uphold the principles of fairness and equal access for all.”
The board voted 5-2 in favor of rescinding their approval for outside groups to use facilities during school days. This means every organization that had reserved time to host student activities or events between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on school days must cancel or modify their bookings , the district says.
The vote was “due to the fact that we have need of those facilities during the school day for the academic enrichment of our students,” said Kelly Avants, the district’s spokesperson.
For example, the district had to tell a district-run chess club they couldn’t use a facility after they had a “dramatically increased enrollment” because the facility they wanted to use had been booked by an external organization, Clovis superintendent Corrine Folmer said at the meeting.
“It’s not that our outside groups don’t have access to our facilities, it’s protecting the instructional day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Folmer said, “which is when our afterschool programs finish.”
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Jason Scott, a local parent and LGBTQ+ advocate, recently questioned Clovis Unified’s facilities reservation practices when several groups were accepted to gather at school grounds and his organization wasn’t. He said he believes this prompted the district to recommend the board’s backtracking of their approvals for existing reservations.
Scott is the executive director of the LGBT Community Network, a Fresno/Clovis-based nonprofit that connects people with resources and support. He previously told The Bee he’s been trying for 11 months to reserve space at the elementary school his son attends to host an inclusive reading hour after school.
The Bee previously reported Clovis Unified had approved external organizations to use district facilities during the Aug. 16 and Sep. 6 meetings. The groups with the most approved reservations were two religious organizations: the Good News Club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The Good News Club is an optional after-school weekly program for kids 5-12 years old featuring a Bible lesson from the Child Evangelism Fellowship. They had 303 reservations across elementary schools.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a group that encourages athletes to play for God’s glory and change the world through the gospel. They had 161 reservations across schools.
Though neither the district nor board members mentioned the LGBT Community Network, some Clovis community members did during the public comment section before the vote.
A longtime Clovis resident and former Clovis Unified parent identified himself as Forrest Rish spoke in favor of honoring the Good News Club’s reservations.
“I would rather see all clubs being allowed rather than to eliminate the most important club on campus eliminated,” Rish said. “I’d rather see a Satan Club alongside a club that shows the light because the light is always going to win over the darkness.”
An unidentified parent said he wants to see the Good News Club, the FCA and the LGBT Community Network all at Clovis schools. He said his kids probably aren’t going to any of the clubs, “but guess what? I’d love it if they’d all be there and available.”
Calling for fairness, the unidentified father also shared his observations on the board’s behavior. He said, “what it looks like is that you guys changed the rules when someone you didn’t like came along.”
He urged the board to, “give people good news, give people the access that they want.”
Scott spoke to The Bee after the board’s vote. He said the board’s vote seems like the end of a “very long struggle” to have access to Clovis Unified facilities.
Scott said the board’s vote felt “disingenuous, at best” to him.
“It is a better story to say, ‘yeah, we just want our schools back,’” he said, “but I don’t believe that.”
Avants said weekend reservations when school is not in session remain as previously approved. Those wishing to reserve space before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m. on weekdays can still do so following Clovis Unified’s request process outlined online at cusd.com/FacilityUse.aspx.