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Fla. school district considers eliminating clubs to avoid allowing gay-straight alliance

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
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TAVARES, Fla. — The Lake County School Board is considering eliminating all non-academic clubs from middle and high school campuses instead of allowing a student to form a gay-straight alliance.

School board members discussed the possible changes during a workshop on Monday after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter that supported 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein, who has applied to form the gay-straight alliance club at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Fla.

According to the ACLU, Silberestein wanted to form the alliance as a way to combat bullying against LGBT students. Silberstein’s application — which detailed instances of children being shoved or called names because of their sexual orientation — was denied last year, but she re-applied to form the group this past October.

Board members said that they now want to limit extra-curricular student groups in secondary schools.

The new rules, if adopted, would affect all other non-academic clubs, including bowling and junior beta, which is a community service club. Yearbook and student council clubs could also be cut.

The ACLU, citing the federal Equal Access Act, said school districts cannot pick and choose which clubs to allow based on what they think students should or should not discuss.

If a school allows any student group to meet that doesn’t have a mission directly related to school academics, then it cannot deny other students groups the same access, the ACLU warned.

Lake County school officials said if they decide to get rid of all non-academic clubs, they can still exist, but would not be permitted to meet on campus, distribute flyers or announcements on school property, or be listed on the district’s website.

During the Monday session, School Board Chairperson Kyleen Fischer spoke in favor of banning the extra-curricular clubs in secondary schools, and said the district should focus on education, and that “social engineering” is not the job of the school board.

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