The Osseo school district in the western Twin Cities suburbs is fighting a string of court decisions ordering the school to allow a gay-straight alliance (GSA) access to school facilities. The district filed an appeal Friday after a federal court ruled in September the district violated equal access laws.
In 2005, Maple Grove Senior High School officials refused the request of a newly formed gay-straight alliance student group to use school bulletin boards and communications equipment. The school argued that the GSA was not a curricular group, and that non-curricular groups don’t have access to those facilities.
An injunction in 2006 and a ruling late last month ordered the school to allow the group to have equal access with other curricular groups. The courts argued that Maple Grove High School and the Osseo school district in which the high school resides had discriminated in its classification of curricular versus non-curricular groups. Synchronized swimming, cheerleading and the Black Achievers were all classified as curricular and given access while their relation to school curriculum was dubious.
“The District’s argument is circular — the District deems certain student groups curricular because it sanctions them, but the District decides which groups to sanction,” wrote Judge Joan Erickson. “This type of decision making is exactly what the Equal Access Act is meant to prohibit.”
Schools across the country have fought the formation of GSAs whose mission is to create a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and provide opportunities for straight students to support their LGBT friends in often hostile school environments. In fact, these hostile environments are often exacerbated when students attempt to organize.
In Baton Rouge, La., the school district banned all student groups in 2000 in order to prevent a GSA from forming. One student, Lysia Chambers, testified, “I would rather have no noncurricular clubs and go with God than have all clubs and go against my God.” Other students held up Bibles and cried at a school board meeting saying that homosexuality is against God. Salt Lake City schools made a similar decision to ban all extracurricular groups, a move that a court there said was illegal.
Other districts have used the excuse that allowing “sex-based” clubs to form would endanger their federal abstinence-only sex education funding. A school district in Florida lost a case it argued on those grounds.
A Chicago school superintendent blocked a GSA from forming there because he saw it as similar to a student group on masturbation or a group for wine-tasting for minors. A similar case occurred in North Carolina.
Legal watchdogs predicted the outcome in favor of the GSA in Maple Grove. In fact, most school districts have lost to GSAs when the case gets to court. New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard wrote, “The result in this case was quite predictable, because to date no school system anywhere in the country has ultimately prevailed in its attempt to exclude a gay-straight alliance while allowing other non-curricular student organizations to continue operating at their schools, and federal judges have uniformly rejected by attempts by the schools to mischaracterize social groups as “curricular” in order to escape the requirements of the statute.