Ruling rejects school’s argument that Gay-Straight Alliance would be disruptive
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A federal judge has ordered the Nassau County School Board to allow a club promoting tolerance of gays to meet at Yulee High School.
U.S. District Judge Henry Adams issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday, March 11 in the case ordering the district to grant official recognition of the Gay-Straight Alliance and afford it the same privileges as any other student organization.
The ruling came in a case in which the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of students Hannah Page and Jacob Brock. The students said they wanted to start the club to promote tolerance of gays, but were denied access by the school district.
Attorney Frank Sheppard, an Orlando attorney, who argued on behalf of the school district last week, said the group’s name violated school policies and noted the school has an abstinence-based sex education policy.
But in his order, the judge said the school cannot require the students to change the name of the group as a condition to recognition.
"I’m very excited about it," said ACLU Attorney Robert F. Rosenwald Jr., when notified about the ruling. "The judge rejected the school district’s arguments."
Sheppard’s office said he was out of town and not available for comment. A recording at the Nassau County School District superintendent’s office said it was closed.
The judge’s order requires the school district to distribute copies of the preliminary injunction to all teachers and staff within 72 hours.
The ruling means the Gay-Straight Alliance will be able to meet at the school until the case goes to trial — a process that could take two years.
"The school district will have to decide if it wants to waste the taxpayer’s money or follow the law," Rosenwald said.
Sheppard had also argued that the district believed the student group would disrupt the school. The judge also rejected that claim.
The ACLU recently won a similar case in Okeechobee. A judge there ruled schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against a Gay-Straight Alliance.
Rosenwald said the Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000 in attorneys fees in the case.