The middle school principal accused of hindering the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance in Hillsborough is stepping down. Gloria Jones, principal of A.L. Stanback Middle School, will leave Nov. 30, Orange County Schools administration confirmed this week.
Jones did not return INDY messages this week, so it's unclear why the principal is resigning. But she has been publicly criticized by leadership of the system's Board of Education for her handling of the GSA issue this year.
Students and staff at the school said she blocked creation of the GSA—which offers support and counseling for LGBT students—for more than two years before finally allowing students to meet just weeks before the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
School board Chairman Stephen Halkiotis, who previously criticized Jones for her handling of the GSA, declined to comment Monday, citing the confidentiality of personnel actions.
However, Halkiotis reaffirmed his support for the GSA. "I recognize the right of all young people to participate in all school activities, provided they're not inflammatory," he said. "We've been an open, free and democratic society for as long as I've been around. And I do know that people have constitutional rights. We have to live by that."
In September, the INDY reported that Jones ordered a new policy barring non-academic clubs such as the GSA from meeting during school hours, all but eliminating the group. Student and staff supporters said the move made the group more difficult to attend, particularly for school staff who would have to advise the GSA without pay.
Multiple members of the school's staff said Jones told them the policy change came from Orange County Schools' central office. But the system's Interim Superintendent Del Burns said that was untrue, prompting fresh criticism for the school principal.
"The kids expressed a need for this," said Elizabeth Vallero, a Stanback guidance counselor and GSA supporter, in September. "And to create a reason to take this away now, it's awfully convenient."
Jones denied opposing the club, but told the INDY in September that the decision to alter school policy was made "based on the needs of the school."
"My job is to support all students, to educate all students," Jones said. "What we have to do, that is what we need to do."
Halkiotis said then that the principal's new policy had a "bad taste" to it. "People need to be thinking really carefully about what they're saying and doing because it could come back to haunt them," he said.
Orange County Schools spokesman Seth Stephens said board members and the school system's central office did not pressure Jones to resign. The school's new principal has not been hired yet, but the new administrator is expected to take over Dec. 1, the day after Jones leaves.
"I just hope that the board puts in place a principal that wants to make the school safe for everybody," said Amy Glaser, director of Inside Out 180, a North Carolina nonprofit that aids students in organizing school GSAs.
GSA research has shown the clubs make schools a safer and more productive place for LGBT students, but the national club frequently draws criticism from social conservatives. It has the legal backing of the federal Equal Access Act, legislation passed by Congress in 1984 ordering school leaders to treat all clubs equally.
In response to the A.L. Stanback controversy, Glaser's group—along with the ACLU of N.C. and Hillsborough's Cedar Ridge High School GSA—is co-sponsoring a community forum on the club at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough on Nov. 10.
The forum, which will include talks from mental health professionals on the importance of GSAs, will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 1710 Old N.C. 10 in Hillsborough.