Area Lions Club withdraws high school scholarship over citizenship requirement
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. — High school students in Wisconsin Dells are missing out on an opportunity to receive hundreds of dollars to go toward their future education, according to critics of Lake Mason Lions Club.
For the last 20 years, the Lake Mason Lions Club has helped students pay for college by providing a scholarship for those who want to go to two-year colleges. While their mission has not changed, five years ago they modified the qualifications of the $500 scholarship, allowing only U.S. citizens to apply.
“This is something that is very important to our Lions Club. Citizenship. It means a lot. We would like to reward people that are citizens,” said Ralph Jacobsen, member of Lake Mason Lions Club.
Jacobsen said it is important to the club to help out U.S citizens because it falls in line with the club’s mission to honor patriotism. While Jacobsen said the club does not check the status of citizenship, he said the language was put in as a deterrent for students who would not qualify.
It wasn’t until this year the school realized the change. The new language was identified due to the qualification being underlined in the criteria for the first time this year.
“They may have been brought here and they didn’t have any choice on that so to further highlight whether they should be here or not, I just don’t think it serves the greater good,” Jacobsen said.
The club voted this month to not offer the scholarship this year after the school told them it would not accept change in the criteria. In a letter to the Lions Club sent by the district, the district cited Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prevents districts from sharing any student data without written parent consent.
“We recognized that this criteria is not in alignment with Wisconsin state law or our school district’s mission statement and belief,” the letter read.
The district offered several options to the club to come to an agreement, according to the district. By law the school cannot ask if a student is a U.S. citizen. Even if they could, Principal Hugh Gaston said it goes against what the school and district stand for.
“It was drawing a neon flashing light to simply say, ‘If you are not a U.S. citizen, you cannot apply.’ Whether is legally discriminatory or not, it doesn’t seem to be inclusive and it flies in the face of what we believe as a school district,” Gaston said.
But the Lions Club doesn’t see it as discrimination. They say students of all races can apply. As passionately as the school feels, the club says it too is standing its ground.
“I think we owe it to the people that come here legally to support them. I just can’t imaging requiring a person to be a U.S. citizen is discriminatory. To me, that doesn’t make any sense,” Jacobsen said.
The club would like to participate in the scholarship program in the future, if the school allows the qualification.
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