The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against a north Florida school board for preventing students from forming a Gay Straight Alliance, the ACLU of Florida announced earlier this week.
When student plaintiffs Jacob Brock and Hannah Page of Nassau County's Yulee High School approached school officials about forming such a club, the superintendent of schools responded, telling them the school would not recognize groups with names that reference a specific sexual orientation. Even changing the GSA's name to something less explicit would not guarantee the school district's approval, according to the ACLU. The federal Equal Access Act requires schools to grant access and official recognition to most student groups if the school allows any extracurricular activities to form. No comment on the suit yet from the Nassau County School District.
GSAs are clubs designed to promote communication among students of all sexual orientations in an effort to dispel misconceptions and prevent discrimination against gay students. Brock and Page say the need for a GSA in their school is clear because both receive regular threats of physical harm and deal with derogatory, verbal assaults on a daily basis. Forming a GSA, the students hoped, would help them feel safer in school.
Research conducted by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network shows students who attend schools with GSAs are more likely to feel safe in school and less likely to skip classes, says GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. She added that GLSEN knows of about 5,000 GSAs across the country but expects the true tally of total GSAs is much higher because clubs are not required to register with her organization. "It's a shame when school districts try to block the formation of these clubs because their presence has such a clear, proven, positive effect on students," Byard says.
The ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction to force school officials to allow a GSA to meet at Yulee High School while litigation pends trial.