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ACLU files second lawsuit after Fla. school again blocks gay-straight alliance

Thursday, December 19, 2013
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OCALA, Fla. — The ACLU on Thursday sued a central Florida school district for the second time this year, claiming it is once again refusing to approve a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club at a middle school.

Lake-County-School-BoardThe suit against the Lake County, Fla., school board was filed on behalf of a group of students led by 12-year-old Hannah Faughnan, a seventh-grader from Leesburg, Fla., who were denied their application to form a gay-straight alliance at Carver Middle School.

Earlier this year, the ACLU sued the district on behalf of Bayli Silberstein, then a 14-year-old 8th-grader at Carver whose effort to establish the club had been blocked by school administrators for nearly a year. A short time later, the school board agreed to a settlement allowing the club to form.

The club met three times before the end of the school year, although students claimed discussion was chilled by the presence of a principal or an assistant principal at the meetings, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.

In August, the board passed new rules for school clubs and required all existing clubs to reapply in order to meet.

The GSA submitted the club application explaining the goals of the club – including “to create and execute strategies to confront and work to end bullying, discrimination, and harassment against all students” – in October.

On December 5th, after the ACLU requested an update on the status of the GSA application, the school board’s attorney stated that the Superintendent had denied the club application under the new club policy and would not permit it to operate as a school club, claiming that the club was not an extension of the school curriculum.

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But according to the ACLU, numerous other non-curricular clubs have been approved across the district.

“It seems there’s nothing the school board won’t do to keep the students at Carver Middle School from their legally-protected right to start a GSA and fight bullying and discrimination at their school,” stated Daniel Tilley, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “It’s clear that the school board’s new club policy was just the latest tool to try to stop these students.”

“What’s most disappointing is that as these kids are facing bullying in the classrooms, they’re being subjected to a more sophisticated kind of bullying from the officials who should be protecting them. The school board’s response to what these kids are doing is the perfect example of why a GSA is so important,” said Tilley.

Lake County Schools spokesman Chris Patton said school officials hadn’t received the lawsuit yet and he couldn’t comment on it.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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