Young America’s Foundation Aims for a Return After Yearlong Deactivation

In+its+first+year%2C+YAF+brought+two+conservative+speakers+to+campus%2C+including+Rachel+Campos-Duffy.+

Ryan Peters

In it’s first year, YAF brought two conservative speakers to campus, including Rachel Campos-Duffy.

Lainey O’Neil, Staff Writer

Young America’s Foundation, also known as the conservative club “YAF,” is looking to make a return to Lake Forest High School after the club was forced to deactivate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the spring of 2021, the YAF chapter was deactivated for one year because the club “failed to meet the criteria for full-time status,”  according to an email from former District 115 Interim Superintendent Constance Collins.

Student Activities Director Ashleigh Malec said all clubs at the school must satisfy certain criteria to be considered full-time clubs. Some of these requirements include having “active membership, meeting monthly, and positively contributing to the school,” Malec said.  The first benchmark for any pilot club wishing to qualify for full-time status is to hold at least one 45-minute meeting per month with students in attendance.

According to Malec, YAF had difficulties meeting at least monthly throughout its first school year as a pilot club in 2019-2020. The school administration, she says, took the unusual step of allowing YAF an additional year to meet requirements (2020-2021).

Malec said the YAF club failed to meet each month even in its second year. When it came time for an evaluation of YAF by the Extracurricular Activities Committee in the spring of 2021, using a set of guidelines available on the LFHS website, the club was found to have fallen short of the criteria for full-time status.  This decision triggered a one-year deactivation period, and the club would have to wait until October 2022 to reapply for pilot club status.

Malec said the YAF club was given every opportunity to meet requirements, and the administration didn’t take the decision to deactivate it lightly.

“I think a lot of people thought it was because of YAF’s political stance,” Malec said. “There’s a lot of assumptions, but when it gets down to it, it was just because they didn’t meet those thresholds.”

YAF is a non-profit organization that focuses on ensuring, as its mission statement explains, that “young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.”  Founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1960, YAF is a presence today in many high schools and on college campuses nationwide, organizing conferences, seminars, and internships to bring a conservative viewpoint to students across the country.

“There’s a lot of assumptions, but when it gets down to it, it was just because they didn’t meet those thresholds.”

— Ashleigh Malec

Former Interim Superintendent Collins sent an email in June of 2021 to the community stating that “the administration has worked tirelessly with student members and sponsors for the club to help them understand and meet the recognition requirements for full-time status.”

“Despite Lake Forest High School’s ongoing efforts and the success of multiple other LFHS clubs in meeting despite the pandemic, YAF again failed to meet the requirements for full-time status for the 2020-2021 school year,” Collins said.

Malec’s and Collins’ version of events, however, is challenged by recent alums Grace Gescheidle, now a sophomore at University of Wisconsin, Julia Hender, a sophomore at Tulane University, and Alisa Giannelli, a freshman at Texas Christian University, who organized the club after recognizing student demand for a club that represents conservative views at the school.

“I wanted a place that I could go and talk about important issues with like-minded individuals,” Gescheidle said.

Gescheidle, Hender, and Giannelli said that the first YAF meeting at the high school attracted significant interest, with a turnout of more than 70 students, and interest in the club remained strong during their time at LFHS.  While they acknowledge that YAF, like so many other clubs, found it challenging to hold meetings when the school was in remote learning mode and students were isolated in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they assert that the YAF club did meet regularly and satisfied the school’s requirements.

Diane Bower, who recently retired after serving 25 years as the LFHS Nurse, was the faculty sponsor of the YAF club from 2019-2021.  According to Bower, who also moderated the American Red Cross club her entire time at the school, the YAF club did all the required paperwork and recordkeeping and met on a regular basis.

“I believe the requirements were once a month, which we achieved at the height of COVID,” she said.  Bower also points out that former Interim Superintendent Collins never consulted her or asked for her input prior to deciding to deactivate the YAF club and sending her message to the community.

Patrice McDermand, who works in the Dean’s Office, was the YAF club faculty sponsor alongside Bower during the 2019-2020 school year. “Yes they had difficulties through the pandemic, but they still met once a month in Zoom meetings when not in school,” McDermand said.

I wanted a place that I could go and talk about important issues with like-minded individuals.”

— Grace Gescheidle

She said she is confident student leaders “did everything by the book.”  She points out that YAF at LFHS was even awarded National YAF Chapter of the Year for 2020.

McDermand also takes issue with the claim that the YAF club was given an additional year to meet pilot club requirements. McDermand says  YAF had been granted full-time status after its first pilot year at LFHS.

The club’s student founders also recall that their efforts to get the club off the ground faced unique obstacles.  As an example, through a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request, the YAF national organization learned that some administrators and staff here had questioned the club’s formation from the outset.  One characterized the club as having “extreme politics and ideals, mostly dealing with hate, racism, and homophobia.”  In another email obtained by YAF, one faculty member questioned “whether this group is appropriate for our school and students.”

Bower said the administration “made everything as difficult as possible for this club.”  In one instance, the chapter had expressed an interest in organizing a patriotic 9/11 tribute (“Never Forget Project”) to remember and honor those lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  Administrators advised YAF to hold its event on City of Lake Forest property. The tribute took place at Market Square.

Leaders of the chapter and the school administration were able to work together to coordinate other events, however.  For example, conservative speakers Steve Forbes and Rachel Campos-Duffy made a presentation at Lake Forest High School’s Raymond Moore Auditorium.

Looking ahead, a group of students today is working to get the YAF club at LFHS back on its feet.

Senior Christina Carris first became involved with YAF as an underclassman, and she attended local events held by YAF.  “I’m a very politically active person, and when it wasn’t there anymore, it sort of felt like a piece was missing,” Carris said. “So I thought, might as well bring it back!”

Senior Jack Marshall also has been a driving force behind the chapter’s revival and said he is excited to see how it grows.  “I’m glad it’s coming back, because it gives kids the opportunity to exercise their beliefs as well as talk about freedom,” Marshall said.

Many students seem eager for both sides of important issues facing the community and nation to be equally represented and are excited for the return of the YAF chapter at LFHS.

“I didn’t have the chance to be in YAF my freshman year, so I’m excited for it return next year so I can share political viewpoints with my peers,” said junior Zoe Frentzas.

Junior Chloe Robb agrees.  “I’m ecstatic to get the opportunity to be in such an inclusive club and to discuss and celebrate differing perspectives with my classmates,” she said.

YAF student leaders hope to have the club ready for the 2022-2023 school year.  This involves, among other things, waiting for the expiration of the one-year deactivation period at the end of this school year, submitting necessary paperwork, identifying club leadership for next year (Carris and Marshall are both seniors), and finding a teacher sponsor.

If YAF receives approval to move forward, it would operate as a pilot organization its first year back and would be expected to meet the school’s requirements, keep attendance of club members at meetings and events, and consistently promote the club and bring awareness to its purpose and mission.  These are the requirements for any pilot club.

Carris and Marshall will be graduating this spring, but said they are laying the foundation, helping set goals, and creating leadership opportunities for up-and-coming classes to restart and grow the YAF chapter at LFHS for years to come.

“For me, it’s not just about bringing YAF back, but bringing back all political discourse to our school,” said Carris. “It’s really important that we all have a voice in what goes on, specifically in our own community.”