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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Row over student's Caucasian club
By Maggie Shiels
in Oakley, California

Lisa McClelland
Lisa McClelland's plan has put her at the centre of a storm
To some, 15-year-old Lisa McClelland is a heroine - while to others she is public enemy number one.

One thing she herself says she is not is a racist, as she defends her attempts to start a "Caucasian club" at her California high school.

"I think I am doing a great thing," she told BBC News Online in the garden of her home in Oakley, 50 miles east of San Francisco.

"I'm trying to break racial barriers.

"Without a Caucasian club things at school are kind of segregated and I think if we have a Caucasian club it will go along with the rest of the race clubs so the school might be a little bit more diverse."

Lisa and friends -
There are all these other racial clubs but there isn't a Caucasian club
Lisa McClelland, at home with friends
The school is already home to the Black Student Union, the Asian Club and Latinos Unidos, an Hispanic club.

Pupils of all races can join any of the groups but Lisa says she does not fit in and believes her Caucasian club will help bridge the gap for many.

"I came home from school one day, the day we were signing up for clubs, and I didn't see any that really interested me.

"We were talking about how there are all these other racial clubs but there isn't a Caucasian club and me and my mom talked about it and how there would be nothing wrong with trying to get it started."

But ever since Lisa went public, she and the school have been in the spotlight.

The topic is a regular staple on American cable programmes and the favourite punch bag of right wing radio talk shows.

school principal, Eric Volta
The decision will rest with school principal, Eric Volta
School principal Eric Volta has found the attention overwhelming but perhaps understandable.

"A club by that name tends to make people nervous. Even school administrators as far as what it's purpose is," he said.

"As long as it stays positive, it's not a problem."

And Lisa promises that it will be.

"It will be where kids can go and learn about their heritage and break down their culture more than the school does. Any race can join."

Divided opinions

A snapshot of opinion outside the school gates found support for the idea mixed, and centring on the race issue.

Patricia backs the club on one condition: "I think it would be okay as long as it wasn't meant to be racist."

Freedom High School
The issue has caused a fierce debate at Freedom High School
Shayna, 15, does not understand what all the fuss is about.

"I really don't think it should be that big of a deal because there's the BSU [Black Student Union] and all that stuff already."

Angel, 16, applauds Lisa's idea.

"More power to her. We should have more white clubs around here."

Melissa, also 16, said: "I don't think it will cause any racial problems because there were no problems when the black club and the Asian club were being set up."

But 14-year-old African American Tarryn disagrees.

"It's dumb, real dumb. The girl says 'we want to talk about our background,' well their background is about putting black people as slaves."

Another 14 year old, Joe, is equally critical.

"I think it's really stupid. It's just racial separation and we got rid of that a long time ago."


Indeed some believe the whole affair has opened up old racial wounds within the school and the district.

Two years ago a swastika and anti-minority flyers were found in the boy's bathrooms at the school.

A black teacher found a noose made out of a shoelace hanging on the doorknob of his classroom in 2001 and tension mounted when a rope noose was discovered hanging from a tree on another school campus in the district last year.

Lisa and her mother Debbi Neely
Lisa has the backing of her mother, Debbi Neely
Lisa McClelland said she had been on the receiving end of some racist barbs herself.

While she shrugs them off as part of the media circus, her mother Debbi Neely isn't so nonchalant.

"I'm very concerned about that and I'm keeping a close eye on it."

Darnell Turner of the local chapter of the NAACP civil rights group said of Lisa's club: "If her motivation is to bring harmony, as she alleges, this is not the way to go."

But far from having a negative impact on the school, Principal Volta says Lisa's proposed club has sparked a great debate.

"The level of conversation our students are having about their heritage, their culture, their background, fairness, equity and civil rights has been a very positive thing out of this experience."

Over the next two weeks Lisa plans to draw up the club's constitution and find a faculty adviser.

Ultimately the decision to give it a green light will lie with the principal, who said: "I will base it on what's fair and what's right for the students at Freedom High School."

Lisa says that if the proposal is rejected she and her mother will consider legal action.

Debbi Neely said: "I've raised my kids to be open-minded and I think at that point it would become a discrimination issue just due to the fact they have a black student union, a Latino club and an Asian club and at that time I would definitely file for discrimination."

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