Ocala – The lawsuit fighting for a Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School is dismissed.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in Dec. 2013 on behalf of Hannah Faughnan, who at the time was a seventh-grader attempting to form a GSA at Carver Middle School. Faughnan represented a group of students who wanted to create the GSA but were blocked by school administration.
There were courtroom arguments in March of 2015 and on Aug. 19, U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges concluded that because there is no new application for a GSA for the coming school year, the case is not capable of being settled by the action of a court and even if it was, the Equal Access Act doesn’t apply. That Act says that all student clubs must be given equal treatment by school administrators.
“The School Board was well within its rights to undertake a complete overhaul of its policies concerning approved or school sponsored clubs, and to draw distinctions based on differences in maturity levels between elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools – distinctions not previously spelled out in its written policies,” Hodges ruling reads.
“This affirms that the school board, in revising its policy, did not act in any way detrimentally to the GSA and that their policies were drafted to be objective, without singling out any particular group or organization,’’ said Steve Johnson, attorney for the school district, in a media release.
The revisions refer to some legislative wrangling in 2013 that clarified whether middle schools are secondary schools and therefore, which laws governing club access apply.
“This ruling is a loss for the students at Carver Middle School who sought to do what students at thousands of schools across the country have done: fight to bring an end to bullying,” reads a statement by Daniel Tilley, the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Rights Staff Attorney. “Fortunately, many school boards throughout the state recognize what Lake County School Board does not—that GSAs make schools a safer and more welcoming environment for all students and have a proper place in any school, including middle schools.”
Tilley says the ACLU will continue to educate schools about the benefits of GSAs and in the meantime, they are “closely analyzing the Court’s ruling to determine next steps for the kids at Carver Middle School.”
ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson says they aren’t prepared to announce any specific next steps, “but we are working to determine what is the best course of action we can take to protect these students and ensure their rights are being respected by the district.”
This lawsuit is just the latest battle in a years-long fight for a GSA at Carver Middle School. In November of 2012, then-14-year-old Bayli Silberstein requested permission to start a GSA at Carver Middle. After months of legal wrangling and school board meeting debates, a judge granted Silberstein permission to form the club for the remainder of her eighth grade year, which ended in the summer of 2013. That settlement has expired, Bayli has moved onto high school and now, the GSA no longer meets at Carver Middle School. Faughnan’s application to revive the club sparked this most recent legal battle.