A federal judge in the Southern District of Indiana recently ruled that a group of high schools known as the Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance should have the same guarantees as other school clubs.
The alliance, which is a non-program club, should be allowed to promote its meetings and fundraise like other groups, Judge James R. Sweeney II ruled in Indianapolis.
The judge’s action came amid a lawsuit filed by the alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The school district denied the alliance access to the school newspaper, radio station and billboards.
Judge Sweeney ruled the alliance would likely succeed if the case proceeds, based on the Equal Access Act which prohibits public high schools that receive federal funding and maintain an “open forum”. limited âto denyâ equal access âto students.
The judge wrote: âSpecifically, program-related clubs like the French Club and the Outdoor Adventure Club can use the school’s bulletin boards and radio station, raise funds and be listed in the student manual. , while non-program clubs like the PHGSA and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes cannot. However, at least one club that the school classifies as program-related, the Outdoor Adventure Club, is, in effect, unrelated to the program. Thus, by offering the Outdoor Adventure Club – but not the PHGSA – access to certain benefits, the school denied the PHGSA “equal access” under the law. “
This is an important element for other clubs, including Christian Athletes, who may wish to publicize the events.
But there could be a catch.
The school claimed the morning announcements would be longer or result in billboards cluttered with leaflets.
The judge, however, concluded that “not only does this damage appear minor, but the school could mitigate it, for example by instituting a limit of one leaflet per club per notice board, provided the limits also apply to all groups unrelated to the study program; or by prohibiting all non-program clubs from meeting on campus, thereby avoiding any implication of the law.
The last part of the preceding sentence makes you hesitate. Could this be interpreted as an outcome? If there is a ban on all non-program clubs, doesn’t that hurt all students? Wouldn’t that reduce the discussion of social issues to a time when teens should ask questions and seek answers? It is better not to think so. It is better not to let this trial drag on.
Instead, let’s try and try to celebrate this decision. Let’s not write it down as a fad decision in “waking” times.
This decision is an opportunity. We can celebrate that high school students, outside of state education standards, are trying to assert their identities and secure their social roles for the future.