A central Florida school district may ban extracurricular student clubs in an attempt to prevent the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance at a local middle school.
The Lake County School District discussed amending the rules regarding student clubs in order to blockade a Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, according to the Miami Herald. A group of students attempted to form the Gay-Straight Alliance during the 2011-2012 school year, but were turned down. One eighth-grade student, Bayli Silberstein, persisted and reapplied for permission in November.
Silberstein's push for a GSA is in response to anti-gay bullying at the school, according to WFTV. She claims she and her friends were tormented by others for their sexual orientation. "It hurt, and that is something that I did not want to see continuing," she told central Florida's ABC local affiliate WFTV.
After Silberstein's application was previously denied, the American Civil Liberties Union got involved, according to WFTV. The ACLU sent a letter to the school district saying that if school officials continued to obstruct the formation of the group, taxpayers may have to foot the bill for a very expensive lawsuit.
The Florida School district is legally obligated to permit a Gay-Straight Alliance, per the federal Equal Access Act. The legislation states that it is unlawful for a school receiving federal funding "to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting... on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech."
So now, Lake County may sacrifice all to thwart one.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, school board members mulled over the issue on Monday. Chairwoman Kyleen Fischer reasoned that the school is not responsible for "social engineering." Board member Tod Howard expressed worry over losing the more valuable clubs, remarking during the meeting, "I am very concerned that one club would push out the remainder of the clubs that are doing good things."
The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) was floored over the school board's plans.
“It’s shocking that a school board would go so far to ban a student club designed to provide a safe and affirming space for all students,” Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director, said in a GLSEN news release on the matter. “Research has consistently shown that GSAs improve school climate and students develop a stronger connection to their school community. By denying access to a GSA, the school board is sending the wrong message that LGBT students are undeserving of the same opportunity to a quality education.”
GLSEN also said that students at schools with Gay-Straight Alliances experience less homophobia and victimization, and are less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation than at schools without.
Thursday marked National Gay-Straight Alliance Day.
Clarification: The Lake County School District contacted The Huffington Post with the following statement, "School Board is not considering banning all clubs. The Board is considering limiting all clubs to only curriculum-based clubs."
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