Sunday, April 20, 2003

Gay-straight group wins right to meet

District had banned it

The Associated Press

ASHLAND, Ky. - A federal judge has ordered a northeastern Kentucky school district to allow a newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on campus.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning ruled Friday that the Boyd County school district must treat the group no differently than the Bible club, whether reading announcements over the intercom or publishing meeting times in the campus newspaper.

Bunning granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union, representing students who filed suit against the school district, for an injunction to give equal access to the Gay-Straight Alliance.

The ACLU argued that a ban on all school club meetings was an unconstitutional attempt to shut out students who sought to form the gay-straight group.

"The judge here recognized that schools can't silence students who hold unpopular views, even if those views cause others to react disruptively," said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Instead, the school must punish students who are disruptive."

The ACLU claimed in the lawsuit that the school board violated the students' rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment. The lawsuit also charged that the school board violated the Kentucky Education Reform Act by usurping the authority of a school council, which had voted previously to allow the student group to meet on campus.

Administrators and school board members testified last month that they feared animosity surrounding the group might turn to violence. The school board tried to calm the situation by voting to suspend the meetings of all clubs.

However, Bunning concluded from two days of testimony that some student groups, including the Bible club and drama club, continued to meet on campus despite the ban.

Bill Capehart, superintendent of the Boyd County schools, said he notified the high school principal Friday of the judge's ruling, letting him know that the ban on club meetings has been lifted. He said the school board will discuss the issue at a meeting Monday evening.

"I just can't project at this point how the community and how the opposition are going to respond," Capehart said. "It's going to be our challenge to assure that learning goes on."

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