Many details to come, but there are multiple indications that the Religious Right has again targeted Arkansas Governor’s School.

Look for Republican Sen. Jason Rapert and Rep. Mark Lowery to be at the forefront of doing something drastic to the summer program for gifted children, decried by religious conservatives since its founding as a hotbed of godless liberalism where impressionable young minds are filled with dangerous ideas.

Advertisement

Supporters of the school have rallied before to keep it operating in the manner originally conceived. It has been housed at Hendrix College since its beginning in 1979 by Gov. Bill Clinton (with assistance, I should disclose, from my mother-in-law who worked in gifted and talented education in the state Education Department.)

The school has met challenges by endeavoring to reflect balance in its faculty — I’ve spoken before classes led by Dan Greenberg and lifelong Republican Peggy Scranton. Curriculum has been altered at times to soothe objections (“Angels in America” was deemed too much for young minds.)

Advertisement

But those challenges were met before Republicans took over every aspect of state government and the echo chamber that is the Republican majority decidedly leans toward the fundamentalist view of the world.

Jerry Cox, the leader of hateful Family Council, applied for a teaching job at Governor’s School this year and wasn’t hired. He’s suggested on Facebook that this might have been Christian discrimination. I wish my mother-in-law, a godmother of Governor’s School, was still alive and supervising AGS, a church lady who was in her pew every Sunday.

Advertisement

We’ll have more details in the future, but the plan apparently includes a move away from Hendrix, well-known as a liberal enclave. But I wanted to get the word out early to the legions of young people who’ve said Governor’s School was a singular formative moment in their lives. They have tech savvy. They can use social media.

You can bet that the homophobia of Cox, Rapert and the others plays a role in this. Governor’s School has been a safe place for LGBT kids, a marked contrast for many of them from communities (and sometimes homes) dominated by anti-gay conservative churches that view their sexual orientation as at least a sin and even a crime. By safe I mean simply safe to live as one was born, not a place that’s indoctrinating or preaching. Of course, the Raperts and Coxes do not want a world in which LGBT people are safe from discrimination. They endeavor to make discrimination state law.

It pains me to reveal this movement is underway yet again, but it is not too soon for those who believe in academic freedom to organize.

One talking point among the opponents: Some tough questions Governor’s School students have given Gov. Asa Hutchinson. One telling comment on Cox’s Facebook page:

Advertisement

The Governor has almost no say in it. If he did, the students probably wouldn’t have gotten away with disrespecting Governor Hutchinson.

Trumpism run rampant. It is treason to criticize The Leader.

I think Asa Hutchinson, by the way, is up to debating high school students. Here’s an account of his 2016 appearance there, in which he fielded a number of questions on controversial topics. Seems pretty respectful to me. But expect a replay of this bill of particulars from conservatives in 1992. They watched a movie about Harvey Milk!

No doubt that the student population of Governor’s School leans left, though I’ve encountered some outspoken conservatives in my occasional appearances there. And good for them. Boys State and Girls State (particularly Girls State) lean right. I doubt the fundies will be pushing for balance there.

If the end is near, I hope the Governor’s School kids get an opportunity to question Rapert and Lowery. Lowery has said on Facebook that “significant change” is coming soon and that he’s been working on it for months. In between checking Ashley Madison.

UPDATE: Key people haven’t been returning phone calls. But Feb. 15, next Thursday, is the deadline for submission of proposals to host the summer program. At this point, the state said, no applications have been submitted. UCA has been working on an application, a participant in the process told. Harding University said it is considering entering a proposal. No word from Hendrix. The host proposals could be separate from what Jerry Cox described as the existing “mess” and which Lowery says he intends to change.

* ALSO RAPERT:  Sen. Rapert disputes any ill intent toward Governior’s school. From an e-mail message:

My efforts have been nothing but supportive of the Governors School program being held in our community at Hendrix College and this can be confirmed with Pres. Bill Tsutsui. 

He posted a comment, however, on Jerry Cox’s Facebook page in response to Cox’s criticism saying

I’ve already started asking new questions