Thursday, February 20, 2014

Florida Middle School Students Sue To Start Gay-Straight Alliance Club

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A year ago, an eighth grade student at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Florida, requested permission to form a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at the school. The principal and the school board turned down her application.

 The students began an online petition, which attracted the attention of the ACLU-Florida, which lobbied the school on their behalf. Baylor Johnson, a lawyer for the group, said he thought the school officials just had a misunderstanding about the nature of a Gay-Straight Alliance group.
“These are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and their straight allies who work together to try and end bullying and harassment and discrimination on campus.”

The school’s reaction was to declare war on the kids.
First Carver Middle School changed school policy so that only academic clubs were allowed – though as the ACLU points out, they do still allow a cheer-leading club.
Then, because under federal law secondary schools must grant equal access for all extracurricular clubs, Lake County School Board member, Bill Mathias, successfully lobbied to redefine the term “secondary school” in state law, so that it no longer includes grades 6-9.
“It didn’t make sense for us to consider an 11-year-old, 12- and 13-year-old as ‘secondary,’ and so I wrote letters and spoke to our local delegation to the Florida Legislature, and they affected a change.” said Mathias.

The ACLU’s Baylor Johnson responded:
“It’s almost like they’re engaging in a more sophisticated form of the same bullying.”
Mathias was so insulted by the comment, he talked about himself in the third person:
“Really I actually resent that because I would never frame Bill Mathias as being a bully.”
The ACLU’s says the case could hinge on that definition of “secondary school”. Lawmakers removed the “grades 6-through-12” wording, but they didn’t replace it; they left the interpretation up to the judge.
This week, the students finally had their day in court. The school tried to have the case dismissed because the eighth-grader who had requested the club had graduated. The ACLU had another seventh-grade student ready to take her place, and the court allowed the arguments to proceed.
It’s hard to understand a school’s resistance to a group dedicated to stopping bullying, but resist they did. Who needs a GSA more than the kids in our middle schools who are just beginning to understand their sexuality?
The judge did not say when he might rule.

h/t WSFU
GSA Image: Wikipedia

School photo Facebook