Fate of Middle-School Gay-Straight Alliances Unclear in Lake County, Florida

Florida’s Lake County School Board has, as expected (and feared), given final approval to a vague new rule for extracurricular clubs that may make it difficult for students to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the district’s middle schools.

Some media outlets are reporting that GSAs are “not allowed” under the new district policy. But as I explained in a recent post (and as Lauren Ritchie of the Orlando Sentinel noted over the weekend), the policy isn’t actually so clear on the issue. Indeed, several key decision-makers appear to disagree on the policy’s effect. And even if administrators do end up interpreting the policy to bar gay-straight alliances, the policy may violate federal law, including the Constitution. So the ACLU may end up suing the district again (and winning again).

[Update on 8/13/13 @ 7:30 p.m.: The Orlando Sentinel reports that a seventh grader, Hannah Faughnan, plans to “take the helm of a Gay-Straight Alliance” at Carver Middle School in the Lake County School District. Stayed tuned for updates on whether administrators or board members try to stop her. The former leader of Carver Middle School’s GSA, Bayli Silberstein, won the right to form the club after suing the school district, but Bayli has now graduated to high school, and the court order in her favor is technically no longer in effect.]

The school board could and should avoid further legal trouble and better protect the district’s students by clarifying that gay-straight alliances are allowed—and even encouraged—in the district’s middle and high schools. The board should also adopt a code of conduct that expressly addresses discrimination, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

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