ELYRIA — Signs that read “Equality” and “Support Issue 2” were mixed equally at a peaceful rally Monday morning at Elyria High School.
Lined up in front of the historic Washington Building on Middle Avenue, students came together before class to rally in support of the district’s upcoming renewal levy and a newly formed gay-straight alliance club at the school.
The rally came days after The Chronicle-Telegram reported that several members of the community disagree with the club’s presence at the school and have threatened to work against efforts to pass the levy as a result.
Issue 2 is a renewal that would generate $12 million a year for Elyria Schools.
“We are all here together,” said student organizer Will Simons, 16. “We want the community to know that we, as a school, want the club around, and we do not want to be penalized by the levy failing when it means so much to every student in our school and district.”
Students originally planned to return to the streets after school, but the event was canceled after Elyria police received a phone call about two hours after the morning rally when the caller claimed there was a bomb at the school. Students were evacuated for more than an hour while police officers and firefighters searched the school.
At no time did police and school officials believe the rally and bomb threat were connected. Police Capt. Chris Costantino said the caller never mentioned the rally or gay-straight alliance club.
“I know it was easy to put both of them together, but that was never the case,” said district spokeswoman Amy Higgins. “The rally was a peaceful gathering of students, and the evacuation was done according to school protocol. It was just a coincidence the two happened so close together.”
Even without the afternoon rally, students got their point across, supporting Allies, an after-school club started in recent weeks for straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Its aim is to serve as a place where students can “come together in an accepting and open environment intentionally designed to discuss topics directly related to both the gay and straight communities,” according to its announcement.
The inaugural meeting was attended by 27 students.
Monday’s rally was organized through social media. When a news article highlighting the opposing views of parents hit the Internet on Saturday morning, messages on Twitter immediately went out calling for an organized counter-effort at the school.
By 2 p.m. Saturday, students were set with their plans.
The outcome was a mix of students, teachers, administrators and some parents standing side-by-side. As cars drove down Middle Avenue and honked, students cheered.
Maddy Massey, 18, a senior at Elyria High, said she has known about Allies for several weeks and thought it was a cool idea. It never stood out to her as different than any other club at the school.
“It fits in with everything else Elyria High stands for,” she said. “To us, it’s just like band or drama or sports. We used to have a gay-straight alliance for years, and the only reason it stopped is because students lost interest. If the club is here, it’s because students have an interest again.
“At least 50 kids that I know of want to join now,” she added.
Elyria High Principal Tom Jama stood to the side and watched with pride as the students rallied. Since taking the helm of the school several years ago, Jama has encouraged students to speak their minds on issues that concern them while supporting one another and showing pride for their school.
“I’ve done this job a long time and I have never been more proud of a group of students,” he said. “They have come together in a positive manner to promote their school in a peaceful and meaningful way. This is what Elyria High is all about.”
Jama and the school’s choir director, Mark Jessie, also an Elyria City Council member, collected the students’ signs after more than 30 minutes of rallying, but assured students the signs would be safe for future use. Students were told they could put signs up in the hallways.
Austin Rubinoski, 16, a junior, said he has friends who are lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual, but the club is not just for them to the exclusion of others. He said he plans to attend the next meeting.
“This club is to make everyone feel welcome at this school and accepted in their own skin,” he said.