ACLU Sues Nassau County Schools to Enforce Right of Gay Straight Alliance to Meet at Yulee High School and Yulee Middle School
Preliminary Injunction Sought to Force Yulee High School to Allow GSA Meetings
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today filed a lawsuit against the School Board of Nassau County, Florida (“SBNC”) after administrators unlawfully denied students’ requests for permission to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (“GSA”) this school year at Yulee High School and during the 2007-08 school year at Yulee Middle School.
The SBNC superintendent said in a letter denying access to the GSA that groups with names referencing a specific sexual orientation would not be recognized and that even if the group changed its name to one not communicating a gay-specific mission, approval was uncertain.
“We just want the club so that straight and gay kids can get together to talk about harassment and discrimination against gay kids in an open environment. The school is discriminating against us and that’s exactly the kind of thing we want to talk about and prevent,” said Hannah Page, ACLU plaintiff and student at Yulee High School. “Other clubs and groups are allowed to meet on campus and we have that right too.”
Bullying of LGBT students in Nassau County Schools is a serious problem. Plaintiffs Hannah Page and Jacob Brock, who are gay, report that students have threatened to beat them up based on their sexual orientation, and both are routinely called derogatory names at school.
GSAs are student organizations made up of straight and gay students who wish to advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) students. There are over 4,000 GSAs in the U.S., according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
The federal Equal Access Act requires schools to grant access and official recognition to a GSA (and most other student groups) if the school allows any extracurricular groups to meet on campus. SBNC denied the Yulee GSA access and official recognition even though other student organizations, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, meet regularly at YHS and YMS.
“We are taking a stand today because gay students are entitled to a safe and secure education. Gay and lesbian students deserve schools that heed the rule of law,” said Robert Rosenwald, Director of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project. “These students are trying to bring a message of equality and openness, and the lesson they are being taught is that
Yulee High School administrators believe discrimination against LGBT students is an acceptable policy. Discrimination and harassment by students will never end as long as schools discriminate themselves.”
The ACLU filed the suit alleging violations of the First Amendment and the Federal Equal Access Act, and seeks a preliminary injunction to force school officials to allow the GSA to meet at Yulee High School while the litigation makes its way to trial.
“I hope that being part of this important lawsuit will open up people’s eyes so that they can see that there is still a lot of discrimination and we need to sit down and talk about it,” said Jacob Brock, ACLU plaintiff and student at Yulee High School. “The school is preventing us from talking about anti-gay bias, harassment, and violence and working together to promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance of one another, regardless of sexual orientation. That’s just unfair.”
The ACLU of Florida recently won a similar federal case when school officials in Okeechobee, Florida refused to allow a GSA to meet at Okeechobee High School. The judge ruled that schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA. The Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000.00 in attorneys’ fees for refusing to follow the law in that case. You can read more about the Okeechobee case at: www.aclufl.org/news_events/?action=viewRelease&emailAlertID=3654
The lawsuit was filed today in the Jacksonville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Robert Rosenwald, director of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project, is lead counsel for the ACLU’s case, Gay-Straight Alliance of Yulee High School v. School Board of Nassau County. LGBT Advocacy Project staff attorney Shelbi Day, ACLU of Florida legal director Randall Marshall, and associate legal director Maria Kayanan will also represent the plaintiffs.
A copy of the Complaint can be viewed at: www.aclufl.org/pdfs/YuleeComplaint.pdf
A copy of the motion for preliminary injunction can be viewed at: www.aclufl.org/pdfs/YuleePI.pdf
Students can learn more about their rights by downloading a free copy of the ACLU of Florida’s Student Rights Handbook at: www.aclufl.org
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