The Plight Of The Citrus College Rocket Owls (Update)


Keith's note: Apparently a little visibility had an effect. After several months of community debate the issue as to whether the Citrus College Rocket Owls can travel to the NASA Student Launch competition has now suddenly appeared in the agenda of the Citrus College Board of Directors who will meet next Tuesday. I can't help but think that Homer Hickam's emails and phone calls directly to the responsible officials had a direct impact.

As you can see from the screen grabs, the item on the agenda seeks permission is to allow the student team to go. Local sources suggest that it is unlikely that this would have appeared on the agenda unless the intent was to approve it.

CA's LGBTQ law blocks SoCal college rocket club from Alabama competition

"A Citrus College rocketry club may be reaching for the stars, but is coming up with a handful of politics. The Rocket Owls team has earned a coveted spot at the annual NASA Student Launch competition, where 60 college teams from across the country go head-to-head, building and launching high-altitude rockets. But the event is held in Huntsville, Alabama which is one of eight states now targeted by the California legislature's AB 1887. That law bans publicly funded travel to states deemed to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people."

Rocket Owls Commit to NASA Competition Despite Being Barred From Final Launch, Clarion

"Of the other five California schools accepted into the program, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley have confirmed they are attending. "We have not experienced any problems with being unable to compete." UC Berkeley's CalSTAR Outreach officer, Adam Huth, said, "Technically, I believe teams in California are allowed to compete, they may just be unable to receive funding for the trip itself."

AB 1887 (full text)

"Specifically, AB 1887 does not apply to state travel that is required for any of the following purposes: To comply with requests by the federal government to appear before committees."

Keith's note: Homer Hickam of Rocket Boys/October Sky fame came across an article from California's Citrus College's Clarion newspaper that their rocket team wasn't going to be allowed to come to Huntsville, Alabama for the Student Launch competition because of AB 1887 - even though they had successfully accomplished all requirements and had been invited by NASA.

Investigating further, Hickam learned that several University of California teams were coming to the Student Launch competition by using their own funds. When he discovered the Citrus College team had raised their own travel money but the college board and Superintendent had still ordered them not to go, Hickam was outraged.

After going back and forth with NASA officials and Chancellor Eloy Oakley of California Community Colleges, Oakley threw up his hands and said it was all Citrus College Superintendent Geraldine Perri's fault and the decision lay entirely in her hands. Hickam has tried to contact Superintendent Perri but she has not responded. Hickam is trying to bring all the parties together to let these fine young students (rocketowls.com) go to Huntsville and compete. Failing that, he's working to allow them to come as an unaffiliated team.

Hickam spoke to several students and employees of Citrus College and all seem to be afraid of Dr. Perri and what she might do. Anyone, they all said, who doesn't agree with her risks her ire. The rocket team has considered going to Huntsville as an independent team but fear if they do, Dr. Perri's wrath will cause their expulsion from the college and other penalties, including a permanent shut-down of the rocket club for future students. Most of the mentors of the rocket club are volunteers. Their permissions to go on-campus would likely also be removed.

The intent of AB 1887 certainly has clear, undisputed merit to battle discrimination that I fully support. But for Citrus College to use this law as a excuse to prevent students from travelling to this competition - using funds that are not from the government of the State of California or from personal accounts - is simply wrong. This is especially questionable when other California educational institutions have found a way for their student teams to participate using alternate sources of funding. Moreover the NASA Student Launch effort is an educational competition conducted on a national basis wholly operated by the Federal government, not by the state of Alabama. The Federal government - not the State of Alabama - invited the Rocket Owls to participate. Also, the bill refers to people who work in some capacity for the State of California. These are students - taxpayers - not employees - and they do not seek any funds from the State of California.

Let's hope that Citrus College management wakes up to the realization that their job is facilitating education - not blocking educational opportunities for their students. If you don't want to help your students, Geraldine Perri, fine. But at least allow these students to spend their own money to further their education.

Controversy over college rocket group coming to AL sparks outrage, WAFF

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 20, 2018 9:08 PM.

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