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Court Rules GSA is Allowed to Meet Despite School Board’s Objections

Nassau County, FL
 
After suing their school district, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, students in the Yulee High School Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) are now allowed to meet while they wait for a final decision in their lawsuit. The students were barred from forming a GSA at the beginning of the school year, but will now be able to continue meetings after a U.S. District Court judge’s preliminary injunction concluded that the school district’s argument “strains logic.”[1]
 
According to the plaintiffs, two openly gay Yulee High students, they have been threatened with beatings, called derogatory names, had food thrown at them, and been spit on in school. Their goals for the GSA were to address the harassment they face and to work toward creating a safe environment in their school.[2] When the club was shut down after its first meeting, a letter released from the district’s superintendent explained, “We were willing to let the proposed GSA meet on the condition that the name of the club was changed to prevent bullying and discrimination. A club name highlighting specific sexual orientations will not be permitted as it would violate school board policy.” The students have maintained that renaming the club would defeat their purpose of working towards awareness and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.[3]
 
When the students hit this stumbling block they contacted the ACLU, which promptly sent a letter to the school board saying that it would take legal action if the board did not grant permission for the club. The school board responded by changing requirements for all existing and newly proposed extra-curricular clubs to include a mandatory charter and parental consent for participation. Then, when the controversy became more heated, the school district temporarily halted all activities by school clubs. The ACLU attorney felt that “The new policy was passed in order to thwart the GSA and the moratorium on extracurricular activities likewise was passed to keep the GSA off campus.” [4]
 
In February, the students, in conjunction with the ACLU, decided to file a lawsuit against the school for violation of the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act, which mandates that districts provide the same access to resources for all student groups. One of the student plaintiffs stated “The school is preventing us from talking about anti-gay bias, harassment, and violence and working together to promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance of one another, regardless of sexual orientation. That’s just unfair.”[5]
 
In court, the school district argued that referencing sexual orientation in the club’s name was a violation of the schools abstinence-only-until-marriage policy. The judge rejected that argument and ordered the school board to allow the club to meet without changing its name.[6] The school board has not decided whether it will continue with the case, but the students are already planning the club’s next meeting. 


[1] Paul Pinkham, “Gay-straight club allowed to meet at Yulee High,” Jacksonville News, 12 March 2009, accessed 15 March 2009, <www.jacksonville.com/news/metro/schools/2009-03-11/story/gay-straight_club_allowed_to_meet_at_yulee_high>.
[2] “Kids Sue School over Gay-Straight Alliance,” Jacksonville News, 11 February 2009, accessed on 12 February 2009, <www.news4jax.com/news/18693844/detail.html#->.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Mary Kelli Palka, “Legal Action Against School Board Suggested,” The Times-Union, 10 December 2008, accessed on 12 December 2008, <www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/121108/met_366027647.shtml>.
[5] “ACLU Sues Nassau County Schools, Foster Folly News, 11 February 2009, accessed on 12 February 2009, <www.fosterfollynews.com/news/2009Feb10ACLUSues.php>.    
[6] Pinkham.

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