A federal judge has issued a decision requiring White County High School in Georgia to allow students in the gay-straight alliance club (GSA) to meet on campus.

The decision was cheered by the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case on behalf of the students in the club.

“This is a great victory for the lesbian and gay students and their friends at White County High School who will finally be allowed to meet and can begin to address the violence and harassment against gay students at the school,” said Beth Littrell, associate legal director of the ACLU of Georgia. “But it’s also a victory for all students who have been shut out of noncurricular school clubs and activities all year by the school’s wrongheaded attempts to prevent the GSA.”

After reluctantly allowing students at White County High School to form a GSA, the school district took the extraordinary step of purporting to shut down all noncurricular clubs in an effort to prevent the GSA from meeting.

The ACLU brought a lawsuit against the school district in February 2006, claiming that the school officials violated the students’ rights under the federal Equal Access Act, which requires schools to provide equal treatment to all noncurricular clubs. At a trial in the case, the ACLU proved that the school did not shut down all noncurricular clubs, but continued to allow several noncurricular clubs to meet.

This past week, the court issued a permanent injunction against the school, requiring it to allow the GSA and other school clubs to meet. The court’s decision noted, “Extracurricular activities have significant educational value. PRIDE [the student's name for the GSA] was not the only student group that was prohibited from meeting on school premises during the 2005-2006 school year.

These other groups are also entitled to protection under the EAA [Equal Access Act]. Although plaintiffs have raised claims only on behalf of PRIDE and its members, the injunction would also pertain to other student groups that have been denied equal access.” Other clubs affected by the decision include the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Key Club and Students Against Drunk Driving.

“This has been the best civics lesson ever,” said Kerry Pacer, one of the founders of PRIDE. “I couldn’t believe the school was so unfair to us when all we wanted to do was to try to address the violence and harassment against gay students. I’m relieved that the legal system works and the court will make the school let the club meet.”

Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, added, “Student clubs are a critical part of a student’s education. The Equal Access Act is important because it guarantees the rights of students to form all kinds of clubs – from GSAs to religious clubs.”

Federal courts have repeatedly ruled in favour of GSA’s where schools tried to block their formation, upholding students’ right to form the groups in Salt Lake City, Utah; Orange County, California; Franklin Township, Indiana; Boyd County, Kentucky and Osseo, Minnesota.

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