Wednesday, May 1, 2013
ACLU Files Suit Against Lake County School Board Over Chronic Blocking Of Attempts To Form Gay-Straight Alliance
In Florida, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the ACLU Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of eighth-grader Bayli Silberstein who's been blocked for months from starting a Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School in Leesburg. Bayli, who is openly bisexual, has been attempting to organize the gay-straight club at the school since November to help give gay students a place to feel safe. Her efforts have since been routinely thwarted by her principal, Mollie Cunningham, who took no action on her club application and School Board members who tried to create new student-club rules that would ban the club. The ACLU contends that the school district's inaction amounts to a denial of the club which violates a federal law protecting student clubs as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments. "I'm really frustrated that we've reached this point, but we can't wait any longer," Bayli said, in a statement prepared by the ACLU. "The bullying at my school is really bad, and I don't want to have another school year go by without kids feeling like there's a safe place where they can be themselves. But the School Board keeps trying to stop us." School Board members in March voted 3-2 to tentatively approve student club rules that would have allow all non-academic clubs in middle and high schools – including the gay-straight club. The rule needed a second approval to become official. But instead of taking a vote last week, School Board members tabled the issue saying they again needed to workshop the policy. Members agreed 4-1 they needed more information about a tweak in state law that could impact which grades are protected by the Equal Access Act. The federal law forbids "secondary" schools from discriminating against clubs based on what they might discuss. A tweak in state law, however, prompted by Senate Bill 1076 removes old language about which grades make up a Florida "secondary" school and doesn't replace it with a new definition. School Board members Bill Mathias and Tod Howard called for a change in the "secondary" definition after discussions about Bayli's club. Both men oppose the club in middle schools, but support it in high school. Mathias disagrees with the suit saying that the board has been moving "judiciously" toward a policy and the idea it deprived someone of their Fourteenth Amendment rights "seems a little dramatic,” adding, "I think the ACLU is reacting based on pressure they're getting without really it having any basis.” A school district spokesperson said the district had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.