Hillsborough County Schools Keep Open-Door Policy for Gay-Straight Alliances

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
December 13, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU of Florida Welcomes Defeat of Proposal Aimed at Removing Gay-Straight Alliances

TAMPA, FL – Students, parents and community leaders today commended the Hillsborough County School Board for rejecting a proposal to turn away students from extracurricular activities if they do not have a permission slip.

The defeated proposal was the result of a yearlong effort by a small but vocal group who hoped to remove Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) from Hillsborough’s schools.

“These students are bringing a message of tolerance and openness; that discrimination and harassment of LGBT students, or any others, will not be tolerated,” said Zeina Salam, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project, who worked to defeat the passage of the recent recommendation by the task force. “Students have fundamental constitutional rights just like everyone else. Requiring students to get signed permission slips in order to participate in school sponsored clubs is counter-productive to fostering an open learning environment -we are thrilled that this was voted down.”

Legally, the school board would have had to apply the permission slip requirement to all clubs, putting the very existence of every club at risk. The unnecessary policy would have created a mountain of paperwork requiring already stretched-to-the-limit school employees to spend even more time administering non-educational programs.

“Thanks to the hard work and cooperation of dedicated people, especially students, the School Board understood that adult supervised, school-based groups often provide a valuable social network if not a lifeline to students,” said Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida. “In rejecting the proposal, the board made clear that students should not be penalized for a lack of involvement on the part of parents.”

GSAs provide a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT students and their straight friends to promote respect and tolerance while addressing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Having a GSA reduces absenteeism and helps students feel safer in school, perform better and have a greater sense of belonging at their school. According to Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2005 National School Climate Survey, which documented the experiences of LGBT students in school:

  • LGBT students whose school had a GSA were less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe compared to other students. About a third of students whose school has no GSA missed at least one day of school in the past month (32.0 percent) compared to a quarter of students whose school had a GSA (25.5 percent).
  • LGBT students whose school had a GSA reported higher levels of school belonging than students whose school did not (2.78 vs. 2.67 on a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being strongest sense of belonging).

More than a dozen community members spoke on behalf of students, including representatives of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project, Equality Florida and GLSEN.

“The school board did the right thing by rejecting this proposal as it currently stands,” said Michael Freincle, former president of Brandon High GSA and Co-Chair of GLSEN Tampa. “Board members recognized that completing a five-second form is not a substitute for parental involvement. Parents need to talk to their students.”

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