Lake County School Board to Discuss Future of Gay-Straight Alliance

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Bayli Silberstein, the openly bisexual eighth grader at Carver Middle School who successfully sued the Lake County School Board to start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) will move on to high school in the fall.

However, the Lake County School Board still has to hash out the future of clubs for the 2013-2014 school year. The board scheduled a second reading of three policies it approved for elementary, middle and high school students.

Generally, the second reading follows a 28-day requirement that the board’s decisions be advertised to the public—which would have placed it on the agenda for a final vote on Monday, June 24. But the Lake County School Board attorney delayed the discussion until Monday, July 8. That date follows July 1, the date when changes to state laws take effect.

This matters in the Lake County situation—and to the GSA at issue—because two board members successfully pushed the Legislature this past session to make some changes in state law that appear to help the board prevent GSA clubs from being formed in Lake County middle schools.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against secondary school clubs based on the topics that members discuss, but it allows states to determine what is considered a “secondary school.”

Effective July 1, Florida Legislators removed the definition of “secondary” schools as sixth through 12th grade and the law does not redefine it.

Lake County School Board members Todd Howard and Bill Mathias lobbied for the change. The definition is critical because federal law relies on states to determine which secondary grades will be protected.

The American Civil Liberties Union says Lake County schools must allow GSAs because the middle school has other non-academic clubs.

In mid-May, the board voted to allow elementary schools to have school-sponsored clubs with parental consent, but student-created clubs would not be permitted. For high schools, the board voted students could create clubs with the superintendant’s approval.

But the board argued about what to do for middle schools, finally voting to limit clubs to organizations that can “strengthen and promote critical thinking, business skills, athletic skills and performing arts.”

It is unclear whether the GSA club charter could meet those application requirements. Superintendent Susan Moxley, who approves the applications, has expressed her desire to keep GSAs out of middle schools.

The Board is expected to approve all three policies July 8, but could throw them out and start over.

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