POLITICS
01/15/2015 06:08 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2015

Mississippi School Board Fights To Block Gay-Straight Alliance From Forming

JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD via Getty Images

A Mississippi school board has rewritten the district's rules on school clubs after a student expressed interest in forming what the superintendent called "gay clubs."

According to the Clarion-Ledger, a student at Brandon High School in Rankin County approached a teacher about starting a Gay-Straight Alliance chapter, which is aimed at creating safe spaces for students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the teacher, the student sent the proposal for the new club to school administrators.

On Wednesday, the Rankin County School Board voted to require students to get permission from parents before joining clubs. Officials deny that they knew about the club before making their decision, although superintendent Lynn Weathersby met recently with county administrators and the school board attorney to discuss how to legally “limit organizations like that on campus that we don't want to endorse and don't want.”

Brandon High School did not return The Huffington Post’s request for comment.

The school board’s decision was quickly condemned by advocacy groups and civil rights organizations.

“This policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus,” said Mississippi’s Human Rights Campaign director Rob Hill in a statement. “The board’s actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers.”

"I was greatly disturbed when I heard what was said by the superintendent and his board attorney, because he should know better," American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Charles Irvin told WAPT. "What I want to see changed is that you not try to hide behind abstinence only to say that is the rationale for keeping students from being able to assemble."

Though school board officials stated that the new restrictions apply to all clubs and are not unlawful, Rankin County School Board attorney Freddie Harrell also claimed that a GSA club might violate the state’s abstinence-only education policies. Courts have rebuked school districts that have made similar arguments in attempting to block GSAs from forming, finding that clubs are dedicated to promoting tolerance and raising awareness of prejudice in schools.

According to the ACLU, 15 federal courts have upheld students’ rights to form GSAs under the Equal Access Act, which prevents schools from discriminating against clubs based on the content of the meetings.

Mississippi is one of nine states with restrictive laws that maintain strict goals for teaching students about sexuality and essentially bar teachers from educating students about LGBT issues.

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