ACLU of Florida providing assistance to make sure right to form club – which seeks to end bullying - respected by school administrators.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 23, 2013
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, 786-363-2737, firstname.lastname@example.org
LEESBURG, FL - Today, the ACLU of Florida intervened on behalf of a courageous Lake County middle-school student leader seeking to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at Carver Middle School. The eighth grader spearheading the effort, Bayli Silberstein, says the club is needed to combat bullying at her school, but has faced administrative resistance in trying to establish it.
“The bullying at our school has gotten out of hand, and somebody needs to do something about it,” stated Bayli.
Students at Carver Middle School had tried to form a GSA during the previous school year, and even included in the packet of materials submitted to the school a list of situations in which they had faced bullying that year. The principal at the time, however – David Bordenkircher – denied the request outright. Although many of Bayli’s friends that year were in eighth grade and therefore went on to high school, Bayli was left at Carver Middle.
In November of the current school year, she submitted another packet of materials with the help of a faculty sponsor, but they received no response. Bayli and a friend were able to meet with the new principal, Mollie Cunningham, who acknowledged the potential utility of the club but indicated that she needed to consult with the school board. No movement was made on the issue in 2012. After the new year, frustrated with the unexplained delay, Bayli and her mother Erica Silberstein reached out to the ACLU of Florida.
“As a parent, it was a struggle to hear about some of the things that were going on at my daughter’s school,” stated Erica Silberstein. “The kids were asking for a support system, but the school didn’t seem very invested in the idea.”
Daniel Tilley, an LGBT-rights advocate with the ACLU of Florida, echoed Erica’s concerns: “The fact that the school has not allowed the GSA to form reflects the very reason why such clubs are so needed. If the school administrators themselves are unwilling to support the very people they are charged with protecting, it is unfortunately unsurprising that students’ peers are no better.”
Because of the school’s continued delay in responding to Bayli’s request to form the club, ACLU of Florida Legal Director Randall Marshall sent a letter today to the superintendent and school-board attorney apprising them of their legal obligations under both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Access Act to allow the club to form. The letter also noted the recent successful legal challenges brought by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of students who sought to establish GSAs and were met with administrative resistance.
GSAs are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, along with their straight allies, who advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT students and others. A 2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education network found that “84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.”
The ACLU of Florida has succeeded numerous times in recent years in helping students form GSAs at their schools. In 2008, the ACLU of Florida won a similar case on behalf of a GSA in Okeechobee, Florida. The judge ruled that schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA. The Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000 in attorneys’ fees in that case. In 2009, the ACLU of Florida reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the School Board of Nassau County in following a preliminary injunction by a federal judge against the school board. In 2012, the ACLU of Florida reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the School Board for Marion County; the judge in that case ordered the school to officially recognize the Vanguard High School GSA.
Finally, in January 2013, the ACLU of Florida succeeded in helping the students at Booker T. Washington High School in Escambia County form a GSA after students’ initial efforts were rebuffed by school administrators.
A copy of the letter sent by the ACLU today is available here: http://aclufl.org/pdfs/2013-01-23-ACLUFL-CarverGSALetter.pdf
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