Student Gets Permission to Form Human Rights Club

Times Staff Writer

A Birmingham High School senior was told Wednesday that the Los Angeles Unified School District has reversed its position and will allow her to form an Amnesty International club on the Van Nuys campus.

But an attorney for the district said Wednesday that he doubts whether the student, Allison Latt, can be granted permission to start such a school-sponsored chapter without a change in school board policy.

Richard K. Mason, special counsel to district Supt. Leonard Britton, said that “absent a change in board policy, it cannot be a school-sponsored club.” The district under federal law, however, must grant any student or outside organization permission to meet on school grounds after the school day, he said.

“We’re looking at ways that the students can be accommodated apart from status as an official club,” Mason said. ". . . We would simply provide the space.”


Latt, 17, said she wants the group to be recognized as an official club because that will allow it to raise funds on campus and make announcements of activities during school hours.

Mason said he will bring up the issue before the board in the next two weeks.

Latt said she was told Wednesday by Mort Tenner, administrative consultant of school operations, that she can form the Amnesty International club at her school. “He told me that I could have the club as long as the kids run it and not Amnesty International,” she said.

Tenner said that Latt can easily find a way around a school board rule that prohibits school-sponsored clubs associated with political or religious organizations.


“They can form a club, call it Amnesty International of Birmingham High and make sure that it is not under the control of Amnesty International,” Tenner said. “It’s only illegal if it is a branch of Amnesty International.”

Tenner said that students at U.S. Grant High School in Van Nuys and University High School in West Los Angeles also have applied to start Amnesty International clubs.

The school district last fall denied Latt permission to start a chapter of the human rights organization, and she appealed to the school board Monday. She argued that the organization, which writes letters to foreign governments on behalf of political prisoners, is humanitarian rather than political.

Board member Jackie Goldberg said at the meeting that she would seek to change any policy that prohibits students from organizing politically oriented campus clubs. Attorney Mason was asked to research whether a student chapter of Amnesty International is prohibited under the current board policy.

“We’re spending all this money and time to get kids interested and involved; it makes no sense to have a rule that forbids that,” Goldberg said Wednesday.

Latt brought to the board petitions bearing the signatures of 350 Birmingham students asking for permission to start the campus Amnesty International chapter.

“These signatures are the markings of students who want to get involved, who want to make a difference,” she said.