School District Ordered to Stop Discriminating Against Gay-Straight Alliance in High Schools; Lawsuit Will Proceed to Determine Fate of Middle School GSA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 10, 2009

CONTACT:
Brandon Hensler, Director of Communications, (786) 363-2737 or media@aclufl.org

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has reached a partial settlement with the School Board of Nassau County in a lawsuit filed against the school district earlier this year challenging the district’s refusal to permit Yulee High’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to meet on campus.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, approved by federal judge Henry Lee Adams, Jr. this past Friday, a permanent injunction has been entered against the district prohibiting discrimination against the high school’s GSA and forbidding retaliation against students and faculty who are associated with the GSA. The school district will also pay about $40,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs associated with the litigation thus far to the ACLU.

The ACLU of Florida also sued the district on behalf of Plaintiff Hannah Page for the denial of her request to form a GSA at Yulee Middle School during the 2007-08 school year. The district still maintains that it may permissibly deny access to a GSA at Yulee Middle School, so the claims related to that age group will proceed.

The lawsuit was filed on February 10, 2009 after Yulee High School administrators repeatedly denied student requests for permission to form a GSA and to hold meetings at the high school, and previously at Yulee Middle School in the 2007-2008 school year. On March 11, 2009, Judge Adams entered a preliminary injunction ordering the school district to allow the GSA to meet at Yulee High School while the case made its way through the courts. The settlement agreement makes permanent the terms of that preliminary injunction.

The ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project and the ACLU’s national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project recently won a similar lawsuit in Okeechobee, Florida, where a federal judge ruled for the first time that school administrators must provide for the well-being of LGBT students, and that forming a GSA was a good way to accomplish that goal.

“Every student deserves a safe and secure education. Bullying of gay students is epidemic in American schools and in Nassau County,” said Robert Rosenwald, ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Director and lead counsel. “These courageous students took a stand to address the problem and the school policies that exacerbate it. Hopefully, Nassau school administrators will follow their students’ example and become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

The judge’s order outlines what the school must do to comply, including:

• Allow the club to hold meetings on campus;
• Allow the students to use the name Gay-Straight Alliance rather than one that does not use the word “gay;”
• Allow the club to further its goals of advocating “for tolerance, respect and equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people” and curbing bullying and harassment against LGBT students; and
• Refrain from retaliating against students and faculty who participate in the GSA and the lawsuit.

“We started a gay-straight alliance because we wanted a safe space where all students can talk about harassment and discrimination that LGBT students face,” said ACLU plaintiff and Yulee student Hannah Page. “We’re grateful that the court recognized that the GSA should be allowed to meet and be treated like any other club.”

Gay-Straight Alliance of Yulee High School vs. School Board of Nassau County was filed 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 case, along with Shelbi Day, ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project staff attorney, Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director, and Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director.

Download a PDF of the Judge’s Order granting partial injunction: http://www.aclufl.org/issues/lesbian_gay_rights/OrderGrantingPI.pdf  

Download a PDF of today’s injunction here: http://www.aclufl.org/issues/lesbian_gay_rights/YuleePartialSettlement.pdf  

Download a PDF of the preliminary injunction: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/YuleePIwin.pdf  

Download a PDF of the original Complaint here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/YuleeComplaint.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.  

About the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.  

The ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project has worked since 2005 to protect the legal rights of Florida’s LGBT community and is the leading organization protecting gay kids from discrimination and harassment. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org/lgbt  

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