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ACLU claims victory after Lake County School Board allows gay-straight club at middle school

One day after student Bayli Silberstein sued the Lake County School Board in federal court, school officials agreed to let a gay-straight alliance club meet at Carver Middle School.

“I’m just so happy that our club is finally going to be allowed to meet,” stated Silberstein, an 8th grader at the school

Here's the ACLU news release:

OCALA - Today, just one day after 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein filed suit against the Lake County School Board to enforce her constitutionally protected right to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at her school, the School Board has ended months of delay and efforts to block the GSA, and will allow the club to meet. The consent decree entered today in federal court allowing Silberstein to finally establish the GSA settles a lawsuit filed only yesterday, May 1st, which was the result of months of the school board repeatedly delaying and thwarting the establishment of the GSA.

“I’m just so happy that our club is finally going to be allowed to meet,” stated Silberstein, an 8th-grader at Carver Middle School. “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.”

GSAs are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and their straight allies that advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against all students.  LGBT students in schools with a GSA are significantly less likely to experience victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression than students without a GSA. Silberstein has been working to establish a GSA at her school since the 2011-2012 school year, but faced multiple delays from school administrators. Frustrated by the inaction, Silberstein and her mother reached out to the ACLU of Florida for assistance in January of 2013.

The ACLU of Florida sent a letter to the school board on January 23rd explaining the legal right of the club to form as well as explaining the value of a GSA in “[c]reating an atmosphere in which bullying and violence are not tolerated and everyone is valued and respected [to] help make all students better citizens.”

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 the April 22nd vote, and having exhausted all other options to help Bayli establish the club, the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit on May 1st, contending that the School Board, Superintendent of the School District, and Principal of Carver Middle School violated Silberstein’s rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Then today, May 2nd, faced with having to spend taxpayer money to argue against the right of one of its students to form the GSA – a right which federal courts have routinely upheld – the school board relented. The parties in the case have entered into a consent decree in which Silberstein 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. I imagine that Lake County taxpayers are grateful, too.”

Bayli’s mother, Erica Silberstein, echoed these sentiments. “It’s great that Bayli finally gets to have this club that she’s worked so hard for. All she ever wanted was to make her school a better place. I’m proud of her for fighting so hard, and I hope her story is a lesson that even if things seem tough, you can make things better.”

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Thanks for posting this too!

The fight in Lake County isn't quite over. The L.C. School Board will allow Bayli Silberstein to have a GSA at the middle school through the end of the school year. But it *might* not allow middle-school GSAs in the future (if it can get away with it). The new court order in Bayli's favor expires in mid June.

The Board is meeting this Monday to "workshop" the issue, though it's unclear when it will reach a decision. Interested members of the public can attend the workshop, I believe.

Some members of the school board might think that the law will allow them to ban GSAs moving forward, due to recent changes in state law. I think that's terribly misguided, as I explain on my blog, in a story from Apr. 25 (http://www.youthallies.com/gay-straight-alliances-in-middle-school-florida/). I've also got some more recent stories up about the controversy, and will continue to cover it this weekend & next week on the blog, for anyone who is interested in the details.

Thanks again Steve for covering this.
Mike

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