OCALA, Fla. — Just one day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a Florida school district for denying students from forming a gay-straight alliance, the school board ended months of delays and said it will allow the club to meet.
The suit, filed on behalf of 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein, an 8th-grader at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Fla., accused the Lake County School Board of repeatedly delaying action on the student’s request to form the club.
Bayli, who is openly bisexual, said her application was denied last school year, and when she reapplied last November, she never received a response from the school’s principal about whether it was approved or denied.
What followed from the school board was months of delay and machinations to stop the GSA from being established – including a proposed ban on all non-academic clubs at middle schools – culminating with the school board voting 4-1 on April 22nd to table a proposed club policy, effectively leaving the ban on the GSA in place through the remainder of the school year.
As a result of that vote, and having exhausted all other options to help Bayli establish the club, the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, contending that the School Board, Superintendent of the School District, and Principal of Carver Middle School violated Bayli’s rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The lawsuit alleged that the board’s failure to give Bayli a definitive answer on whether the club can be formed was tantamount to a denial.
On Thursday, faced with having to spend taxpayer money to argue against the right of one of its students to form the GSA, the school board relented.
The parties in the case have entered into a consent decree in which Bayli will be allowed to form the club for the remainder of the school year. The club will be officially recognized and can meet on the same terms as any other club.
“We are very pleased that the school board has recognized the value in complying with clearly established federal law,” stated Daniel Tilley, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida.
“It’s unfortunate that it took months of delay, hundreds of concerned parents and neighbors crowding into school board meetings, tens of thousands of petition signers, nationwide media scrutiny, and a federal lawsuit for the school board to do right by their students, but we are nevertheless gratified that Bayli will get to form her club,” said Tilley.
“I’m just so happy that our club is finally going to be allowed to meet,” said Bayli. “There’s only about a month left of school, but that’s still a month we can use to start doing the work to make this school a safer and more welcoming place.”
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