School Board Allows Gay-Straight Alliance Club in Rockton, Illinois

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
September 20, 2007 12:00 am

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ROCKTON, IL — After months of controversy and warnings from the American Civil Liberties Union that blocking a gay-straight alliance club from forming would violate federal law, a school board in Rockton, Illinois voted late Wednesday night to allow the club to meet on campus. The board’s 5-2 vote reversed an earlier decision by a board committee that had recommended the board ban the club.

“We’re very pleased that the board has decided to follow the mandate of the federal Equal Access Act and treat all student clubs at Hononegah High School equally and fairly,” said John Knight, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “And we’re so proud of the students from the GSA for standing up for their rights and demanding the equal treatment that the law requires.”

The club was first proposed by students in May. In spite of warnings from the school board’s own attorney that legal precedents overwhelmingly favor the formation of such clubs, the board’s co-curricular committee voted to recommend to the board that the club be denied. Wednesday’s vote by the board overruled the committee and will allow the club to begin meeting as early as next week.

“The law clearly supports the right of students to form any kind of club they want, rather than allowing schools to arbitrarily pick and choose which kind of student organizations they’ll allow,” said the ACLU of Illinois’ Youth at Risk Project attorney Sarah Schriber, who along with Knight sent a letter to the board in late July explaining the requirements of the federal Equal Access Act. “Schools everywhere need to know they simply can’t get away with trampling students’ rights and violating federal law.”

Gay-straight alliances are student-formed groups that address issues of discrimination, tolerance, and school safety in hundreds of schools across the United States. According to the federal Equal Access Act, students must be allowed to form gay-straight alliances if the school permits other non-curricular clubs. Federal courts have upheld the right of students to form GSA clubs in several states — including Utah, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas, California, and Florida.

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