Two teens from Kathleen High School in
Lakeland, Florida have been prevented since last year from forming a
Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club.
Rory Teal and Brenna Pelland, both 17,
have been working to establish the club since November, 2012.
“The bullying has been really tough
at our school, and having this club would give kids a safe place to
be themselves and it would put a stop to a lot of the bullying,”
Pelland said. “We just want our school to be a place where kids
are respected for who they are, and a GSA can help make that happen.”
“We're really disappointed that the
school hasn't given us an answer yet, and with the end of the year
coming up, we didn't want to have to wait until next year to have the
club meet to start trying to make KHS safer,” Rory said.
The American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) of Florida on Thursday sent a demand letter on behalf of the
teens to Dr. John A. Stewart, the superintendent of the Polk County
School Board, calling on the district to allow them to establish a
GSA at Kathleen High School.
In its letter, ACLU lawyers stated that
the school's delay and non-response “amounts to a de facto denial.”
“Both the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution and federal statutory laws require that school officials
treat GSAs the same as any other noncurricular clubs at the school.
As explained by the United States Department of Education, the Equal
Access Act … guarantees students the right to form and participate
in school clubs, with wide latitude given to the proposed content of
their discussions. Where schools have refused to allow GSAs to form
or have otherwise denied these groups equal treatment, federal courts
in Florida and across the country have repeatedly held them to be in
violation of the law,” the
letter reads in part.
Administrators told the students that
the delay in receiving a response was due to a long list of club
applicants that had been filed. An ACLU public records request found
that in the previous 10 months the number of applications filed was