Wednesday, January 23, 2013
ACLU Demands Florida Middle School Allow Gay-Straight Alliance To Form
In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding the Lake County School Board allow a gay-student support group to form at a Leesburg middle school after the group was denied by campus administration. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that in a letter sent Wednesday, the ACLU contends that the school district has a legal obligation to allow students at Carver Middle School to form a local chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance student group. In October, several students petitioned Principal Mollie Cunningham for permission to start the group, saying it would help combat bullying and give students a safe, supportive place to be themselves. The students cited several examples of gay Carver Middle School students being taunted or pushed while on campus. "It was hurtful and no one really wanted that to continue," said Bayli Silberstein, 14, an eighth-grader who applied to start the group. Students also had applied to start the club last school year, but were denied by the former principal, according to the ACLU letter. This year, Bayli asked for reasons in writing why the club would be denied, but school officials have yet to provide answers, according to the letter. School district spokesman Chris Patton said the Gay-Straight Alliance group application was "under review," but non-academic clubs are not allowed on campus. Principals have discretion as to how clubs get started, he said. Other Lake County middle schools allow clubs such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Multi-Cultural club to meet and have space on school Web sites. The ACLU contends that under the Equal Access Act, schools cannot pick and choose among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss. If a school allows any student group that's not directly related to school curriculum to meet, then it cannot deny other student groups the same access. Federal courts in Florida and across the country have repeatedly held that it is unconstitutional for schools to deny the formation of local Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. Last August, a federal judge ordered the Marion County school district to allow the group to form a club at a high school after it was rejected. The ACLU wants the Lake school district to allow the Gay-Straight Alliance to begin meetings by next Tuesday.