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Birmingham High : School Board May Approve Rights Group

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles school board Monday agreed to consider allowing a Birmingham High School senior to start an Amnesty International chapter at her school.

A school district official had denied the student, Allison Latt, 17, permission to form such a school-sponsored chapter last fall, saying such groups are prohibited because they are associated with political organizations.

But another district official said after the board meeting that there should be no problem in allowing Latt to form the chapter.

“I think there was some confusion in our organization,” said Sid Thompson, deputy superintendent of school operations.

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‘No Political Affiliation’

“Amnesty International is not affiliated with any political party and is only concerned with human rights,” said Latt, who collected the signatures of 350 students from the Van Nuys campus who favor formation of the chapter.

Latt added that the organization, which conducts letter-writing campaigns to foreign governments on behalf of political prisoners, has existing chapters at Ulysses S. Grant High School in Van Nuys and University High School in Los Angeles.

Board policy prohibits school-sponsored clubs that are associated with political or religious organizations, said Richard L. Browning, an administrator of support services for high schools in the district and the official who turned down Latt’s request last year. The district does allow such groups to meet on school grounds after the regular school day, he said.

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Sponsorship Needed

But Latt said that without school sponsorship, the chapter could not make announcements, pass out flyers or participate in fund-raising activities during the school day.

Board member Jackie Goldberg said that the board should encourage students to become active in political causes.

“If there is such a rule, I would move to have it changed,” Goldberg said.

Latt told board members that she wants to start the club to “open students’ eyes to the world’s persecution and to help them realize they can make a difference.”

Latt said she held an introductory meeting at Birmingham last December that drew 80 students interested in Amnesty International.

Birmingham Vice Principal Jeri Durham said she originally denied Latt permission to form the chapter last year because “the literature says they are supporting political prisoners in other countries. . . . That right there says it’s political.”

45 School Chapters

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David Hinkley, regional director of Amnesty International for the Western states, said he has not had trouble with the formation of chapters at other schools. There are Amnesty International chapters at 45 Southern California high schools, he said.

“I think it’s just a case of confusion,” Hinkley said. “We’re a humanitarian, not a political organization. We don’t deal with issues of a partisan nature, which is what we would consider political.”


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