Victory for Florida Students in Lake County Gay-Straight Alliance Case

A federal appellate court delivered a big win to Florida students in a long-running legal dispute over a middle school gay-straight alliance.

The court’s unanimous decision, authored by a famously conservative judge, holds that a federal law known as the Equal Access Act applies to (and therefore protects the rights of) students attending Carver Middle School in Lake County. The student plaintiffs had relied on the Act’s non-discrimination protections in a lawsuit over the Lake County School Board’s refusal to allow the middle-school GSA. The school board responded to the suit by arguing, among other things, that the Equal Access Act only applies to high schools and therefore provides no protection to the district’s middle school students; today’s decision rejects that position.

The ACLU of Florida, which represents the student plaintiffs, issued a statement on the victory, explaining:

Today’s ruling comes in Carver Middle School Gay-Straight Alliance v. School Board of Lake County Florida, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida in December 2013 on behalf of a group of students at Carver Middle School challenging the Lake County School Board’s refusal to allow the club to form. It was the second lawsuit filed in less than a year challenging efforts by Lake County school administrators to thwart students’ attempts to establish the GSA. . . .

GSAs are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and their allies that advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against all students. . . .

In August of 2015, a federal district court dismissed the students’ case, ruling that the Equal Access Act did not apply to middle schools and that school administrator’s repeated efforts to thwart the students’ right to establish the GSA was not a violation of their rights. The ACLU appealed that decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Today’s ruling from the appeals court clarifies that the Equal Access Act does apply to Florida’s public middle schools, and it orders the lower court to conduct further proceedings to address the students’ request to establish the club on campus and other requested relief.

The ACLU of Florida also posted this celebratory tweet:

In 2013 and 2014, I covered several major developments in this Florida dispute in a series of Youth Allies posts, including these:

Congratulations to the students and their attorneys on the big win!