Florida teen files suit against school for blocking participation in ‘Day of Silence’

Florida teen files suit against school for blocking participation in ‘Day of Silence’

An openly lesbian Florida teen has filed a lawsuit against her high school for being punished for participating in last year’s “Day of Silence,” an annual anti-bullying observance in support of LGBT students.

On Tuesday, Lambda Legal filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against DeSoto County High School in Arcadia, Fla., on behalf of Amber Hatcher, who was sent home from school for participating in the student-led day of action sponsored by Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Amber Hatcher

On that day, thousands of students across the country remain silent to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.

According to the complaint, Amber asked for permission from her principal, Shannon Fusco, nearly a month before the event and provided information from GLSEN and Lambda Legal that explained the observance and students’ legal right to participate.

Fusco allegedly threatened Amber with “ramifications” if she participated. Amber appealed directly to Adrian Cline, the DeSoto County School Superintendent; Cline refused to meet with Amber but directed Fusco to tell her that her request was “disapproved,” the suit alleged.

On April 19, 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to the school advising them that interference with students’ rights could be grounds for a lawsuit. The letter was ignored.

Instead, the Fusco sent an email to all teachers telling them to send anyone that appeared to be participating in the event to the office. When Amber arrived at school wearing a red t-shirt with the message “DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh” and communicating by dry erase board with peers and teachers, she was called to the dean’s office and suspended from school for the day.

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In the papers filed in court today, Lambda Legal argues that the DeSoto County Board of Education violated the First Amendment and well settled legal precedent supporting students’ free speech.

Lambda Legal has also asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the school from interfering in Amber’s – and other students’ — participation in this year’s Day of Silence.

“There are many LGBT kids in my school who have been bullied and harassed and who feel unsafe. I just wanted to stand up for all the kids in my school, gay or straight, who don’t feel like they have a voice to stand up for themselves,” said Amber. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”

“Amber was respectfully and peacefully calling attention to a real problem: LGBT students at DeSoto County High School feel unwelcome and unsafe,” said Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney.

“The school should be working to help support LGBT students rather than punishing students who are standing up against bullying. By threatening, censoring and punishing Amber for her efforts to simply raise awareness, school official’s disregarded her rights as well as the Constitution,” said Littrell.

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