ACLU Asks Judge to Reopen Kentucky Gay-Straight Alliance Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
July 6, 2005 12:00 am

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Boyd County School Officials Have Reneged on Settlement Agreement, ACLU Says

ASHLAND, KY -- The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal judge to reopen a lawsuit it brought two years ago on behalf of several students who had sought to form a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at Boyd County High School. In a motion filed today, the ACLU points to failures by the school district to keep up its end of the agreement to provide a mandatory training focused on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

"The Boyd County Board of Education agreed to take specific steps in settling this lawsuit, because it knew that anti-gay harassment is rampant in its schools," said Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "But this school district's attempts at providing a training have been laughably inadequate gestures that show no real commitment to honoring the agreement or protecting its students."

Last year's settlement agreement came a few months after Judge David Bunning of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky issued a preliminary injunction against the school for blocking formation of the GSA. In that ruling, the judge noted several examples of harassment in the school, including students in an English class stating that they needed to "take all the fucking faggots out in the back woods and kill them."

Part of the settlement agreement called for the school district to conduct a mandatory anti-harassment training for all district staff as well as all students in high school and middle school. In papers filed today with the court, the ACLU outlined the district's failings in meeting the spirit of this agreement:

  • The school allowed students to "opt out" of what was supposed to be a mandatory training session, letting half the student body skip the training. At the high school, only 502 of the 965 students attended the training, and at the middle school, only 462 of the 730 students attended. The only consequence for those students who "opted out" was a slap on the wrists -- they received a single unexcused absence, making them ineligible to get perfect attendance for the school year.
  • Although the school agreed to conduct a one-hour training focused on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination for all middle and high school students, the training video the school showed to students to satisfy this requirement included barely 10 minutes' worth of content that directly addressed these issues.

"Officials at Boyd County know that they've failed in the past to provide a safe school environment for their lesbian and gay students, and they committed in the settlement agreement to take specific steps to stop the harassment," said Lili Lutgens, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Kentucky. "We intend to hold the Boyd County Board of Education accountable for holding up its end of the agreement and making a genuine effort to protect its students from harassment and harm."

The motion to reopen Boyd County High School Gay Straight Alliance v. Board of Education of Boyd County, Kentucky was filed in Covington with the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky. The plaintiffs are represented by McGowan, Lutgens, ACLU senior staff attorney Tamara Lange, and ACLU of Kentucky general counsel David Friedman.

More information, including a copy of today's brief, as well as information on the ACLU's related case in Boyd County can be found here: /caseprofiles.

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