Wednesday, May 21, 2003

School officials ask for dismissal of gay group suit

The Associated Press

ASHLAND, Ky. - Boyd County school officials deny they violated federal law by banning a gay-rights student group from meeting at Boyd County High School and want a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against them.

The response of the school board, Superintendent Bill Capehart and Boyd County High School Principal Jerry Johnson challenges the lawsuit, which U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning ruled last month has "a strong likelihood" of winning.

"The case hasn't been tried on the merits yet," said Sheri Bryan, chairwoman of the Boyd County school board.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Gay-Straight Alliance, seven students and their parents, and Kaye King, a high school English teacher who is the alliance's adviser. The response was filed May 8.

After the school's teacher-parent council voted 3-2 in October to let the group meet on campus, the school board in December banned all student clubs not connected to curriculum from using school facilities. But the ACLU sued in January, saying some student groups were allowed to meet at school while the alliance was not allowed to meet.

The ACLU said the district violated the alliance members' free-speech rights, failed to end anti-gay harassment and violated the Kentucky Education Reform Act by overturning a school council decision.

Bunning agreed. He issued an injunction requiring the district to let the Gay-Straight Alliance meet at school, pending resolution of the lawsuit.

Bryan said the school board did not want to appeal the injunction because school is nearly over for the year.

King said Monday that the alliance has been meeting weekly at the school with 10 to 12 members at each meeting.

"We're not having any trouble with the students here at school," King said.

In its response to the lawsuit, the district denied discriminating against the Gay-Straight Alliance, failing to address anti-gay harassment and violating the reform act. The response also said that the alliance failed to pursue all administrative channels in regard to the club ban and that the district had the right to ban clubs "to maintain order and discipline in the school district as permitted under both state and federal law."

School board members said in December that they banned clubs through June 30 to give the board time to rewrite the district's club policy. Bryan said that the process is ongoing, but that the board likely will revise the club policy next month, and that it will go into effect July 1.

"It will be equitable across the board for all clubs," she said.

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