FLORIDA: Federal Appeals Court Rules That Middle Schools May Form Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs

The Orlando Sentinel reports:

A federal appeals court Tuesday overturned a lower-court ruling that supported the Lake County School Board’s decision to block middle-schoolers from forming a gay-straight-alliance club to combat bullying.

In a battle dating to 2011, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found that the Equal Access Act, which requires federally funded secondary schools to treat all extracurricular clubs the same, applies to middle-school students.

“We’re very happy that middle-school students across Florida will now be able to form GSAs [gay-straight-alliance clubs] without interference from school administrators,” said Daniel Tilley, staff attorney for LGBTS rights for the ACLU of Florida.

The ACLU celebrates:

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.

“We are of course pleased that the court agreed with our legal position on all of the issues in the appeal,” stated Daniel Tilley, Staff Attorney for LGBTS Rights for the ACLU of Florida. “But the greater victory is for the middle school students across Florida who are protected by the Equal Access Act and must be allowed to create a gay-straight alliance if their school allows extracurricular clubs.”

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.

See the full ruling here.