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Indianapolis—The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit today on behalf of three students at North Putnam High School who have been denied the right to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club during non-instructional time at school, claiming the school’s denial violates both federal law and the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit is also brought on behalf of the GSA.
GSAs are student-run extracurricular clubs that bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied students to support each other and promote respect and equality. LGBT students at the school have frequently been harassed and wanted to form the GSA to provide a place to educate the community and support vulnerable students. The school, which allows other non-school-sponsored clubs and activities to meet, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Key Club and Best Buddies, has denied recognition of the GSA club for more than a year. The students followed all the school’s required procedures outlined in its student handbook to establish the club, including securing a faculty member to supervise the group.
On Nov. 20, after a year of stalling, the North Putnam School Board voted to bar the club from forming, despite the fact that other clubs are not made to pass a school board vote. The school’s denial of the GSA club violates students’ First Amendment rights and the federal Equal Access Act. The students are seeking to have their application for the club approved and to allow it all rights similar to those of other extracurricular clubs.
“The law is clear in this matter,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “There is no excuse for the school district’s intransigence, which is causing real harm to its students.”
The ACLU of Indiana was successful in reversing a similar decision by a school in the Town of Munster in July, 2014.
“The actions of the school district in clear violation of federal law leave the most vulnerable students at North Putnam without critically needed support,” Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney at the ACLU added.
The case, Gay-Straight Alliance at North Putnam High School, et al. v. North Putnam Community School Corporation, Case no. 2:14-cv-398JMS-WGH, was filed on Dec. 23, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division.