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Lee's Summit students protest efforts to a start right-wing school club, calling it 'not a safe place'

LSNorth protesters.jpg
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Jade Davis (second from left), a senior at Lee's Summit North High School, said she and other protesters came to make their voices heard.

Lee's Summit students and parents rallied with signs and pride flags to protest a group of students' efforts to start a club affiliated with Turning Point USA.

Parents and students in the Lee’s Summit School District are clashing over an effort by a group of students to start a club affiliated with Turning Point USA, a right-wing youth group founded by pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk.

Some students at Lee’s Summit West High School have taken preliminary steps to get the club off the ground, but there is not an approved group associated with Turning Point USA at the school, according to district spokesperson Katy Bergen.

About 80 people lined up outside Thursday night’s school board meeting divided over their support for the group. The crowd then filled the entire board room.

Protesters voiced their opposition to the student club’s formation because of the national organization’s statements about LGBTQ and minority groups.

“Turning Point USA, the things that they have said, and the actions they have taken against different minorities and different sexuality groups, shows that they're not a safe place for everybody to be themselves,” said Maya Christiansen Wright, a freshman at Lee’s Summit West.

Kali Michael, a Lee’s Summit West student who is working to become president of the student club, said she wants to provide a free space for students to discuss conservative values.

“We just want there to be discussions at our school over topics that aren't really talked about so much in the media, or people that have like minded views that feel ashamed or judged at our school to talk about,” Michael said.

The national Turning Point USA organization describes its mission as spreading the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government. Michael said those are the things she wants to discuss at the student club, not moral issues like LGBTQ topics.

Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Dozens of people also came out in support of the students' effort to start a Turning Point USA club, handing out American flags and branded posters.

Other students interested in starting the group held a meeting in the school’s library on Tuesday but were met with a protest by hundreds of other students. Bergen said the meeting ended prematurely when an individual flipped over a glass table, causing it to shatter.

Kirk, the organization’s founder, posted a video of the meeting, stating that “insane leftists” disrupted the meeting and smashed the table.

Bergen said that the student was acting alone and that administration “is processing the incident in accordance with district discipline policy.”

Noah Symes, a sophomore at Lee’s Summit West, was one of the organizers of Tuesday’s protest. He said that he and other protesters were not associated with the individual who flipped the table.

He said his only demand is for Turning Point USA not to be affiliated with his school.

“I think having a Young Republicans club is entirely in the realm of free speech,” Symes said. “But associating that with an organization that puts out dangerous opinions, and we can't control our affiliation with them, that's an issue.”

The Anti-Defamation League said that in its six-year history, Turning Point USA’s leadership and activists have “made multiple racist or bigoted comments and have been linked to a variety of extremists.”According to PolitiFact, the organization often follows far-right rhetoric and pushes “unsupported claims of fraud in the 2020 election.”

Kirk has also defended Fox Host Tucker Carlson’s promotion of “great replacement” theory, according to the Washington Post, the conspiratorial notion that elites are promoting immigration to the United States in order to displace white Americans and tilt elections in favor of Democrats.

The theory has drawn intense scrutiny recently after a teenage gunman opened fire in a Buffalo supermarket on Saturday, killing 10 people and injuring three more, most of them Black. The gunman, who has been identified as 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron, posted an online screed repeatedly referencing the theory.

Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Maya Christiansen Wright, a freshman at Lee’s Summit West, came with other students to protest the formation of a Turning Point USA club.

Other students also took issue with Kirk’s stance that critical race theory is a “racist concept.” That concept teaches that racism is embedded inherently in aspects of American society.

Jade Davis, a senior at Lee’s Summit North High School, said opposition to critical race theory is upsetting.

“It's like they're going against what we're saying, and they're not really realizing what's going on in America,” Davis said.

Despite the controversy around the national organization, Michael said she stands by the group’s mission statement.

“In every organization, there's going to be people that have maybe extremist views, but that's not what Turning Point stands for,” Michael said.

Michael said that the reason she wants to start a club affiliated with the national organization is because of the funding, conferences, and speaker opportunities that it will provide. She said it will also give them solidarity with Turning Point USA clubs at other local schools.

Now, Michael said those interested in forming the group are looking for a staff member to sponsor the club since three have since dropped out.

Bergen told KCUR in the email that the club has not yet filed to be a school-sponsored club. To do so they would need to find a staff sponsor and make club objectives before submitting a plan for approval.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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