A sign marks the Clark College campus in Vancouver, Washington.

A sign marks the Clark College campus in Vancouver, Washington.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Clark College will be closed all day Monday in response to a Patriot Prayer rally planned on campus.

President Bob Knight made the decision to shut down the school after consulting with the college’s executive cabinet, the Board of Trustees and legal counsel at Wednesday night’s regularly scheduled board meeting.

In a campus-wide email this afternoon, Knight said the college welcomes free speech and open debate — but not at the expense of safety.

“This is not a decision that we make lightly,” Knight wrote. “As a public institution of higher education, we value civil discourse on a wide range of topics, and we welcome free speech and open debate. However, we have to balance those values with the needs of our students to have a safe environment in which to learn, and of our employees to have a safe environment in which to work.”

The closure means that all classes are cancelled Monday and all campus employees will not report to work, unless requested by a supervisor.

“We recommend that all members of the college community stay away from the college that day,” he added.

Knight said he made his decision because of the many accounts of violence that have been associated with events organized by Patriot Prayer in the past, including several violent street fights over the past year in Portland. 

Last week, the southwest Washington based group announced plans to hold a series of rallies on Washington college campuses to protest I-1639, a gun control initiative on the November ballot

The decision to shut down campus on Monday comes after a packed Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday night. More than a dozen students and employees of the college testified before the board, urging them to cancel class.

“These people want a stage at our school. Let’s not give it to them,” one student told the board Wednesday night.

Others gave emotional testimony saying they were fearful the group would bring weapons on campus.

Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson says the group still plans to show up at Clark College on Monday, despite the announcement that classes will be cancelled.

“I understand their concerns because of what happens in Portland. But for us that’s about Portland, not Vancouver,” said Gibson, who lives in the area.

He said the group is holding a “peaceful” demonstration that will be “focused on the students” and plans to distribute information and encourage people to vote against the ballot measure. 

Another event is planned for Washington State University’s Vancouver campus on Tuesday. WSUV Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said they plan to keep the college open, but will have campus police present throughout the rally.

In an email to WSUV students and faculty Wednesday, Netzhammer said because of free speech laws, the school cannot prevent Patriot Prayer from holding a rally on campus. He suggested students and faculty who did not feel safe coming to campus on that day should request permission from their teachers or supervisors to stay home.

“We are a community. We will get through this together,” wrote Netzhammer.

In a statement Thursday, WSU clarified that it would not be allowing any guns on campus.

“I am getting a lot of questions about whether people can bring weapons on campus. The answer is no,” Netzhammer wrote, citing state law that bans firearms on college campuses.

He said staff were working to give students options to avoid the Patriot Prayer rally.

“My best advice on Tuesday is not to engage with protestors,” Netzhammer said. “Ignore them.”