February 5, 2013|Erica Rodriguez, Orlando Sentinel
The Lake County School Board could create new rules that would keep a local Gay-Straight Alliance student group from forming at a middle school.
The School Board discussed the rules for student clubs at a workshop Monday — with most members saying they want to limit extra-curricular student groups in secondary schools.
The discussion comes after the American Civil Liberties Union supported 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein, who wanted to form a Gay-Straight Alliance student club at Carver Middle School in Leesburg. Bayli was denied last school year but re-applied to form the group in October.
The student has yet to hear a final decision from Principal Mollie Cunningham. The club aims to give students a place to be themselves and to combat bullying, according to Bayli’s application, which detailed instances of children being shoved or called names because of their sexuality.
The ACLU, citing the federal Equal Access Act, says school districts cannot pick and choose which clubs to allow based on what they think students should or should not discuss. If a school allows any student group to meet that doesn’t have a mission directly related to school academics, then it cannot deny other students groups the same access, the ACLU says. In Florida, the law applies to middle and high school students.
School Board members Bill Mathias, Debbie Stivender and Chairwoman Kyleen Fischer spoke in favor of a rule that would ban extra-curricular clubs in secondary schools while fellow board members Tod Howard and Rosanne Brandeburg favored banning extra-curricular clubs only in middle schools.
Fischer said the district should focus on education and that “social engineering” is not the job of the School Board. “It is not our job to socially mentor students, but to educate them,” she said.
Howard said he was worried about the clubs that would be lost under stricter rules. “I am very concerned that one club would push out the remainder of the clubs that are doing good things,” he said.
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