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Rather Than Allow Middle School Gay-Straight Alliance, Lake Board Plans Ban on All Clubs

| February 9, 2013

Gay-straight alliances fight hate and bigotry--when they're allowed to exist. (Westconn)

Gay-straight alliances fight hate and bigotry–when they’re allowed to exist. (Westconn)

Update: on May 30, 2013, U.S. District Judge Anne Conway issued a final order in the case of 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein of Leesburg, Florida who brought a lawsuit against the School Board of Lake County for repeatedly thwarting her efforts to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at Carver Middle School. The final order reinforces a consent decree entered by the parties in the case on the day after the lawsuit was filed that allows the club to meet and awards Bayli one dollar in nominal damages. Bayli was represented in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

On National Gay-Straight Alliance Day Wednesday (Feb. 6), an annual event to recognize the importance of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools and the many benefits these student clubs offer to the school community, a central Florida school board was preparing plans to ban all non-curricular student clubs to prevent the formation of a GSA.

A group of students at Carver Middle School in Lake County, Fla. have tried to establish a GSA, saying the student-led club is needed to address name-calling, bullying and harassment in school. In response to the students request, the Lake County School Board has begun the process of banning every non-curricular club at every school in the district rather than follow their legal obligation to recognize the GSA at Carver Middle School.

“Lots of my friends have been bullied at Carver,” said Bayli Silberstein, the 8th grader who is leading the effort to establish the GSA. “It had gotten really out of hand, and so we have been trying to do something about it.”

Previously, students at Carver Middle School tried to form a GSA during the 2011-2012 school year, but the request was denied by the administration. In November of 2012, Bayli Silberstein and a friend submitted another request to form the GSA with the help of a faculty sponsor, but they received no response. The two then met with the school principal, who said that she needed to consult with the school board. After the new year, frustrated with the unexplained delay, Bayli and her mother Erica Silberstein reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the Orlando Chapter of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) for assistance.

“It’s shocking that a school board would go so far to ban a student club designed to provide a safe and affirming space for all students,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director. “Research has consistently shown that GSAs improve school climate and students develop a stronger connection to their school community. By denying access to a GSA, the school board is sending the wrong message that LGBT students are undeserving of the same opportunity to a quality education.”

As pressure mounted on the Lake County School Board to make a decision about approving the formation of a GSA, school board members began the process to create a policy that would ban all non-curricular clubs rather than to allow Bayli and her friends to form a GSA. In a remarkable denial of responsibility for their discriminatory decision, board member Tod Howard stated “I am very concerned that one club would push out the remainder of the clubs that are doing good things.”

GSAs can provide a safe and affirming space for LGBT students and contribute to creating a more welcoming school environment. According to the 2011 GLSEN National School Climate Survey:

• LGBT students in schools with a GSA heard fewer homophobic remarks than students in schools without GSAs.
• LGBT students were more likely to report school personnel intervened when hearing homophobic remarks.
• LGBT students were more likely to experience less victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression.
• LGBT students were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation; and had a greater sense of connectedness to their school community than students without a GSA.

“It is shameful that the school board would sacrifice the needs of all students rather than let Bayli and her friends form their club to combat bullying.” stated Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Rights Project. “The facts are that students are being bullied and harassed at Carver Middle School simply because of who they are, and there is a group of dedicated students who are committed to putting an end to it. Rather than let these kids do the one thing that has helped end bullying in schools all over the country, the Lake County School Board is planning to make the school experience worse for every single student in the district.”

“My daughter and I just want what every parent and child want: a safe school with leaders that listen when there are problems,” said Bayli’s mother, Erica Silberstein. “Bayli and her friends went to the school leaders to tell them there was a bullying problem and that the GSA could help fix it. Instead of listening to my daughter’s needs, the school board wants to sacrifice the needs of all students. They’re not just letting my family down, they’re letting down every parent in the county.”

Since 1998, at least a dozen federal courts have upheld students’ rights to form GSAs at public schools. The ACLU has been involved in nine of those cases, including multiple recent victories for students wishing to establish GSAs in Florida. In 2008, the ACLU of Florida won a similar case on behalf of a GSA in Okeechobee, Florida. The judge ruled that schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA. The Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000 in attorneys’ fees in that case. In 2009, the ACLU of Florida reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the School Board of Nassau County, in which a judge ordered the district to allow a GSA at Yulee High School to hold meetings. Finally, in 2012, the ACLU of Florida reached a settlement in a lawsuit against the School Board for Marion County; the judge in that case ordered the school to officially recognize the Vanguard High School GSA.

–ACLU of Florida

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36 Responses for “Rather Than Allow Middle School Gay-Straight Alliance, Lake Board Plans Ban on All Clubs”

  1. confidential says:

    Totally insensitive and prejudiced Lake County School Board . Do they forget that “All Americans” have rights? Why some are to be treated as creatures of a lesser God? When are we going to stop this nonsense? Was in the news years ago that a college graduate law abiding young man was stabbed to death while opening his home front door to his killer in central Florida and yet his crime is “unresolved” and his protected killer on the loose, maybe because the same reason…

    • IMO says:

      The “Rights” of children have always been curtailed in this nation.

      There are age restrictions on many things in this nation.

      However if you wish to grant children the full rights of an adult then you must allow them to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, drive automobiles, buy guns etc. etc. etc.

  2. Magnolia says:

    Do your club meeting before or after school off campus, but not at my expense. The ONLY CLUBS that should ever be allowed on campus are the French Club, the Latin Club, the Math Club….only ACADEMIC clubs.

    Social issues which are being pushed by the school staff do no belong in Middle School, sorry. What you do before or after school is up to you.

    What next? The man/boy love club? Not on my tax dollar.

    • Nancy N. says:

      This is not a issue that is “being pushed by staff”. Did you read the article? It’s a group of students that have been trying to form this club for quite some time because they are concerned about bullying.

      It’s quite sad that you would compare being gay to committing the crime of pedophilia, and turn your backs on kids who are trying to reach a hand out to their fellow students to try to alleviate bullying which leads to devastating consequences, including even suicide, in LGBT teenagers. These kids have big hearts and are trying to build a bridge to reach out to kids that are marginalized and even abused by their peer group. The fact that you are so scornful of their gesture says a lot about what is in YOUR heart.

      • Witchy Mamma says:

        Well said Nancy.

      • Magnolia says:

        Nancy N, I am not “scornful” about what is in their hearts. This is middle school, where it is critical that children receive the basics or it is likely they will not keep up.

        I am merely stating that I think school should be limited to academics. The rest will come later. And bullying should be dealt with the same way it was dealt with in previous generations. There should be NO tolerance for it, ever, under any circumstance. If we have become tolerant in any way of bullying, our schools have failed our children. This should have been policy since day one here.

        That needs to come from the school administration. If it is not, then they are not doing their jobs. I appreciate the kind hearts of the students, but I also expect the schools to teach discipline. i am not seeing any.

      • IMO says:

        “Bullying” is an issue that is being used as an excuse for groups with a political agenda to make demands on school administrators, school districts and school boards to meet their demands.

        That is manipulation.

        I am sure that the Lake County schools have adequate guidelines for all students gay or straight to report if they are being bullied. You don’t need a “Club” for a student to make a report.

    • Witchy Mamma says:

      Well, if that’s the case you may as well ban all sports programs as well. Nothing academic there.

    • Samuel Smith says:

      Totally agree, we should also get rid of middle/highschool football, soccer, and other sports because they don’t lend to anything academic and they take away valuable study time from students.

    • christina b says:

      Well, there goes intramural sports, varsity sports, junior varsity sports and cheerleading. Did you think before you posted or what?

      • Magnolia says:

        Yes, Christina, I thought about it. I hate to tell you this, but your children are being left behind the national scale. They are not learning enough to qualify them for jobs when they graduate. Being good at sports is commendable, but does not need to take place during school hours.

        Sports are usually done after school.

  3. bq says:

    Let’s get our heads out of the sand! This is 2013 for goodness sakes, there is absolutley nothing wrong with the GSA club. Hope these kids fight for their rights!

  4. Witchy Mamma says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous. Why would you want to punish every child in the district because there might be a club that doesn’t sit well with you personally? Discrimination much? Is this really what we want to teach our children? If the club is a proven success, has helped with other schools and their bullying problems, what is the harm in letting it begin here. You would think that the school board, taxed with looking out for students and their welfare, would find the positive in this. Less bullying, more acceptance would be a good thing and good life skills for all of these children. I don’t care who you are, where you live… this is still the country where everyone deserves equal rights. For these children that means setting up a club where they can feel accepted. Shame on this school board.

    • Magnolia says:

      Witchy Mamma: I am not discriminating; I am saying only “academics in Middle School”. We are punishing our children by tolerating a drop out rate that is not acceptable.

      • Witchy Mamma says:

        Did it occur to you that this may be the reason for some of the drop outs? And no where in this article did it mention that the club would be held during school hours. It doesn’t need to be to affect the change they are trying to create. Bullying has changed… radically. And the premises that much of it is based on is something that the school board doesn’t want to acknowledge much less work against. I agree that some clubs are pointless… this one just isn’t. It would give many children the confidence to stand their ground, to stay in school and to not let this type of stereotyping and bullying get them down. Of course, I guess the teen suicide rate doesn’t necessarily get lumped in with the drop out rate… so maybe you aren’t seeing the whole picture. In any case, the academic clubs you are so adamant about, are being put o the chopping block as well because they don’t want to recognize the need for this one. Talk about pointless and damaging…

  5. christina b says:

    THIS is EXACTLY what makes our schools substandard–narrow minded bigoted administrators who make many thousands of dollars more per year than the average teacher.

  6. tulip says:

    Why don’t the teachers, staff and administration of these schools form THEIR OWN coalitions to actively put an end to bullying and punishing those who do bully others,and stop being afraid of the kid”s parents. If the bullying took place off school grounds and the sheriff”s dept took bullying complaints from kids or their parents seriously and acted upon the issues, then there would be no need for the GSA club. JMO

  7. Trollololo says:

    This whole topic makes me sick. These kids have turned being gay cool. Now every kid out there is doing it for shock value or to fit in. Sick, Sick, Sick!!!

    • Witchy Mamma says:

      There will always be the few that are more interested in the shock value of any action, than the action itself. But when you have children feeling so worthless and unloved that it drives them to suicide… there is a problem. A REAL PROBLEM. Not one created out of nothing. This group is trying to reach out to these kids that might not otherwise find help… maybe because they have parents with your state of mind. Unsupportive family that refuses to love someone that they don’t fully understand. And as an fyi… homosexuality has been documented throughout centuries. There is nothing new here. What is new is that minds are opening, people are becoming more respectful of others, coming to the realization that not everyone can be the same, your company excluded obviously. And in turn we are creating a world where everyone can be accepted regardless. Sounds pretty amazing to me.

  8. Karma says:

    Imagine this was the” young CHRISTIAN club”. Would this story exist and how many of you who favor gays, would favor Christians also? Let me guess, one is a church and state issue and one is a no issue.To take it one step further, many of you would consider the Christian group a hate group. You know, the Bible and homosexuality.

    • Magnolia says:

      Karma, Christian clubs haven’t been allowed in the schools in years. Interesting to me to see so many taking an interest in this issue but won’t show up on a parents night at school or get involved with the PTA.

      When did your ability go get a job and survive in the real world stop being relevant? Oh wait… our children are dropping out in record numbers and we don’t have jobs! Silly me! Discipline in schools? What’s that? Even scarier, our students are not graduating with skills enough to meet the jobs market in other cities where there are jobs.

      Tulip, I could not agree with you more. And unfortunately it will be the sheriff’s problem eventually.

    • Witchy Mamma says:

      I’m not real sure what you are getting at here? If a Christian group was formed, its meetings and activities held after school hours, membership wasn’t mandatory and didn’t interfere with the daily activities of the school… I would have absolutely no problem with it. Just so we’re clear… I’m Pagan, so no biased here or anything of the sort. And the only way I would consider it a ‘hate’ group, is if they went around spreading hate against non-Christians, gays, etc. This issue has nothing to do with religious values. This has everything to do with protecting the children. And until people like you get that through your thick skulls, these children will be teased, be bullied, have their self worth diminished, become suicidal, all because no one would open their minds up wide enough to understand that not everyone can be just like you!

  9. Deep South says:

    The kids today need to go back to clubs like FFA, 4H, and Sierra Clubs. These are clubs that build character and unity.

    • Momof3Teens says:

      Yes, those clubs are great and it would be wonderful to see them revived and make a comeback, but in addition to those…why can’t the kids have a club like they’re asking for? Why not? Because it doesn’t line up with some people’s beliefs? But good point about 4H, etc.!

  10. Stevie says:

    The whole alliance thing sounds like indoctrination to me. Kids get bullied for more reasons that their sexual orientation. If the schools can’t control violence, then they should be shut down.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Would there have been a fuss over this club if it was about anti bullying without it being about if you are homosexuial or normal??? No it would not have been this club should have just focused on bullying no matter what the reason for it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly. Kids are bullied for a lot more embarrassing things than their sexual orientation. No one ever talks about the living hell that kids with acne or obesity go through. The purpose of a Gay-Straight Alliance is to advocate homosexuality, plain and simple. They are merely riding the coattails of the anti-bullying movement in trying to recruit 12-year-olds.

  12. Momof3Teens says:

    We’re failing as parents and educators if we don’t support tolerance. As the working mother of three teenagers, I’d much prefer my kids to be involved with a community/school club than watching tv, playing computer games or (gasp!) having sex or using alcohol or drugs. The money spent on the group/club these kids are looking for will be 1/100th of the money spent on rehab/therapy/etc.! Wake up, people.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Just a point to ponder: if sexual activity is against the law for minors under the age of 16, why are people advocating alternate sexual lifestyles for minors under the age of 16?

  14. Not Your Name says:

    If the students want to address bullying then anti-bullying, tolerance, or social acceptance programs can be started and made available to all students. Groups with a focus on sexuality or sexual identity are not needed in middle school.

  15. Angela says:

    I think it’s ironic how Floridians- indeed the south, love to tote the invasion of government into rights, that we need to protect our liberty… While denying liberty. Most have known for quite a while what they mean is white, heterosexual , christian males. This isn’t about the psychical involvement of sex – it’s about the mental state of being gay. Gay kids suffer higher instances of suicide. Just as Christian groups (which Christianity largely focuses on sex – the bible is ripe with perversion.) seek commonality- so do gay kids who want to to discuss issue within their group and help one another cope with the bias they receive by people like the idiots on this article. You can’t raise a generation f kids to respect the constitution or bill of rights if you yourself do not. It becomes a useless arbitrary article from the past.

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