ACLU Files Suit Against Two School Districts
The American Civil Liberties Union filed two separate suits on Wednesday against school officials in Kentucky and Texas after students trying to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) were blocked from doing so in their high schools.
The ACLU charged in its suits that preventing the students from forming GSA clubs in their schools is a violation of the federal Equal Access Act and the students' rights under the First Amendment.
"With these lawsuits we hope to put school officials on notice that we will no longer tolerate their dirty tactics and bureaucratic excuses to keep students from forming gay-straight alliances," said James Esseks, litigation director for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.
In Kentucky, the GSA debate began at Boyd County High School in spring 2001, when a now-graduated student first tried to get official school recognition for the club. The next year students tried again to get the club approved, only to be turned down three times by the school's parent-teacher council. After the students contacted the ACLU, the council finally gave the GSA a green light to go forward, a decision upheld by the school system's superintendent.
After massive protests by students and parents against the decision, the Boyd County Board of Education decided in December 2002 to ban all clubs in all of its primary, middle and high schools in an effort to prevent a GSA from forming.
"School officials in Boyd County deserve an F for the dishonest and bigoted tactics they've taken to keep a group of students from talking about tolerance and acceptance," said Jeff Vessels, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky. "It's shameful that the students have had to be the responsible ones and teach the educators about freedom and equality."
In Texas, the ACLU lawsuit targets Klein Independent School District in suburban Houston, where students first filed a request to form a GSA in fall 2002. After submitting their petition, the students were told the guidelines for applying had immediately been changed, and the petition would need to be resubmitted. To date, the students have received no answer on whether or not they can have a club.
"I figured if it was going to be approved, they would have approved it fairly quickly," said Klein High School junior Marla Dukler to the Houston Chronicle. Dukler is a plaintiff in the suit. "They've been giving us the run-around; see if they'll change our minds."
Currently there are about 1,700 GSA clubs in schools across the country. The ACLU reports that students have faced opposition from school systems wary of the clubs, with administrators doing everything from ignoring the request to delaying a decision in order to prevent GSAs from coming on campuses.
"These baseless excuses to avoid the law just hurt the students who are already struggling to find acceptance in a hostile environment," said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Through our litigation, we hope educators will come to understand that GSAs make schools safer for all students."