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Lee's Summit West High School divided over adding conservative student club

Lees Summit West Turning Point.png
Posted at 4:46 PM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 18:19:29-04

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. — A protest at Lee’s Summit West High School on Tuesday has opened up a conversation about free speech.

Earlier this week, a group of Lee’s Summit West students were holding a preliminary meeting to start a chapter of Turning Point USA at the high school.

According to the district, the meeting ended prematurely after a student turned over a glass table, shattering it.

The administration is processing the incident in accordance with its discipline policy.

TPUSA describes itself as a national organization promoting conservative values like free market, capitalism, limited government and freedom on school campuses.

But protesters say this is not an organization that should be affiliated with Lee’s Summit West, given the national organization’s reputation and track record.

TPUSA President-elect Kali Michael says that track record isn't deserved.

“With a chapter at a high school or college, we’re non-partisan, meaning we don’t align with any political party — Republican or Democrat,” Michael said. “As a chapter in high school, we don’t discuss moral issues.”

As president, she hopes to create a safe place where people can exchange conservative ideas and opinions in a respectful manner.

“A lot of people, like the protesters, are saying that we’re the ones being divisive, we’re the ones alienating people and making them uncomfortable," Michael said. "But they are the ones that are throwing out these allegations that we are racist, homophobic — a hate group. We’re none of those things, we have shown that we’re none of those things."

Grace Gard, a senior at Lee’s Summit West who was in attendance at Tuesday's protest says she is disappointed about the way the meeting panned out as most students there were peaceful.

“We never meant to silence those who have different opinions from us,” Gard said. “We’re not at all against other opinions or people who identify with the conservative side of things at all. It’s strictly a protest against the affiliation between TPUSA and Lee’s Summit West High School.”

Gard is concerned about TPUSA’s national reputation and track record. She believes this organization has the potential to put marginalized students and teachers in danger.

“When you bring all this together, all these very blatant instances of hatred and discrimination, and you affiliate that with a public school, it doesn’t align," Gard said. "Especially with the school’s written values."

She would much rather see a “Young Conservatives Club” that is not affiliated with an "organization that is attached to this name that is attached to so much hate."

A petition was started on May 16 by some of the protesters, and upon its completion, it will be provided in physical form to administration.

“The protest, the petition, none of that is going to stop us,” Michael said.

The week’s events prompted dozens of people on both sides to protest at the district’s Board of Education meeting Thursday night.

Several parents took the podium to express frustration and anger. Others asked for compromise.

While their values and perspectives may differ, it is a sentiment both Michael and Gard can get behind.

“Us students who might not be on that side of the political spectrum, would be fully interested in going to those meetings and listening and sitting with an open mind and having educated adult discussions,” Gard said.

It's something Michael is open to as well.

“We believe that the importance of conversation has been very diluted in the past few years, and we want to bring back the value of discussion," Michael said. "And so that is exactly what our chapter is set out to do."