Students Give District a Lesson on Rights

     OCALA, Fla. (CN) – Students at Vanguard High School sued their superintendent and school board for their refusal to approve a Gay-Straight Alliance as a school club.
     The Vanguard High School Gay-Straight Alliance, two students and their parents sued Marion County School Superintendent Jim Yancey and his school board, in Federal Court.
     The students and parents are identified by initials in the complaint.
     D.L., the club’s president, wrote a letter and a club proposal to his principal, saying the club “could help to reduce bullying, depression, suicide, and drug abuse among students.”
     But D.L. and S.K., both juniors, say principal Milford Lankford rejected their request, saying he was “uncomfortable” having such a club on “his campus.”
     “He told them an appointment to discuss the GSA was unnecessary because he will not approve the formulation and operation of the GSA,” the complaint states.
     The next day, March 6, D.L. says, he “provided Lankford with two letters to better inform him about the proposed GSA.”
     One was an open letter from the U.S. Department of Education, titled “Letter to Colleagues Announcing Release of Legal Guidelines Concerning the Equal Access Act.” The other was from the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & AIDS project. Lankford refused to reconsiders, so the plaintiffs appealed to Yancey, who neither approved nor denied their request for more than a month.
     So on April 19, the plaintiffs presented another letter to Principal Lankford, with names of 45 students who said they wanted to join the GSA. That day, through counsel, they presented this letter to Superintendent Yancey.
     Again, the students said the club would “fight bullying, discrimination, harassment and violence in school.”
     Yancey rejected them, through counsel, on May 15, saying: “He disallowed the GSA to form and operate at the school because he deemed its purpose inappropriate for the younger students at Vanguard High,” according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs say their club and their applications fulfill all the requirements for a school club. They say the defendants’ refusal violates the First and 14th Amendments and the federal Equal Access Act.
     They seek an injunction ordering the school district to let them form and operate the club like any other student club.
     The students are represented by Benjamin Stevenson of Pensacola and Randall Marshall of Miami, both with the ACLU.

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