Ocala.com reports that the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida (ACLUF-FL) has filed suit against the Marion County School Board (MCSB) and Superintendent Jim Yancey, alleging officials at Vanguard High School (VHS) rejected a proposal by two students to start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at the school. The students claim VHS Principal Rick Lankford flatly denied their request before they could explain the club’s purpose. “He (Lankford) said he wasn’t comfortable with a club based on sexual orientation on his campus,” said Dylan Lee, one of the students.
ACLUF-FL’s suit claims Yancey’s refusal to establish the club is a violation of the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and also runs afoul of the federal Equal Access Act (EAA). The suit charges that after their encounter with Lankford, the students never heard from him again. The students also claim there was no meeting with Yancey after their appeal to his office.
Yancey indicated that the content of some GSA club conversations would be too sexually explicit for the high school’s younger students. He said he suspected the club wouldn’t just be a forum to address anti-bullying and homophobia concerning the school’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered students.
ACLUF-FL said this is not the first time it has tried to help a student from Marion County. The students’ attorney, Benjamin Stevenson, said the organization had tried to help a student at Forest High School with a similar problem last year.
A letter from Yancey’s attorney to the students and their ACLU attorney outlines how, in Yancey’s view, the club’s establishment could interfere with how different-aged students learn and accept gender and sexuality issues. “Typically, students entering high school for the first time are fourteen years old, a difficult age for students undergoing dramatic changes in their bodies, their emotions and their thinking. That is also an age where many parents still want to be a significant source of information to their children about sexual matters, gender issues in society and, among other things, the relationship of their religion to those issues,” Yancey’s attorney, William Haldin Jr., wrote.
Haldin’s letter continues: “The typical fourteen-year-old and the typical eighteen-year-old are substantially different in their methods of learning and their reactions to influence by older students. If all of the students at Vanguard High School were eighteen years old, Mr. Yancey would have no issue with the establishment of the Alliance.”
Source: Ocala.com, 5/25/12, By Vishal Persaud
[Editor's Note: In ACLUF-FL's press release announcing the suit, Staff Attorney Benjamin Stevenson, who is counsel for the students, says: “The law is clear that school officials cannot deny a group because of the group’s beliefs. Their club that will speak out against bullying and make the school safer for LGBT students deserves the same standing as any other group on campus.” He also emphasizes, "The ACLU of Florida is taking a stand for the right of gay students and their friends and allies to form a student club on an equal basis as other noncurricular clubs.”
In June 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in Education Week, which reported that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) had issued a "Dear Colleague" letter warning school officials against taking steps to ban students from forming gay-straight alliances and similar support groups in their schools. While ED acknowledged that schools "need not endorse any particular student organization," it stressed "federal law requires that they afford all student groups the same opportunities to form, to convene on school grounds, and to have access to the same resources available to other student groups.” ED's letter, citing the EAA, emphasized that schools must treat all student-initiated groups equally.
Nonetheless, some school districts have been reluctant to follow ED's recommendations. In October 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Pocono Record, which reported that Bangor Area School Director Frank Addessi rebuked school board members, saying they were unfairly targeting students looking to create a GSA club.]