Idaho School District's Proposed School Club Policy Still Harmful to LGBT Students

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"Schools should make it easier for students to protect themselves and each other...not more difficult."
September 13, 2011
Peter Renn


"Those most in need of the refuge that a GSA provides are also those least likely to be safe seeking parental permission to join a GSA and least likely to be able to obtain it."

(Los Angeles, September 13, 2011) - After receiving a letter from Lambda Legal and the Idaho Safe Schools Coalition, Joint School District No. 2 in Meridian, Idaho has amended a policy regarding student clubs, but the revised policy still harms lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and violates their rights.

Last week, the school board issued a revised policy that now makes clear that student clubs are not prohibited from discussing "sexual orientation including such subjects as combating unfair treatment, prejudices, or stereotypes." However, the policy retains the requirement for parental consent to join a club. Furthermore, it maintains a three-tier structure for student organizations (exempt, curriculum, and non-curriculum), relegating all non-curriculum clubs, including Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), to the third tier and significantly limiting their ability to access school resources.

"The policy creates significant illegal barriers that LGBT students must climb over in order to access their constitutional rights," Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn said. "Schools should make it easier for students to protect themselves and each other from hostility and to foster respect for LGBT students, not more difficult."

"Those most in need of the refuge that a GSA provides are also those least likely to be safe seeking parental permission to join a GSA and least likely to be able to obtain it," Renn added. "Furthermore, playing favorites with select student clubs is precisely what the federal Equal Access Act was enacted to prevent. The revisions are a step in the right direction, but they are not enough."

"LGBT youth face staggering amounts of antigay violence and harassment, and a disproportionate number of them commit suicide each year," said Krista Perry, Co-Chair, Idaho Safe Schools Coalition, which joined Lambda Legal on the letter. "GSAs are one important counterweight. Students in schools with GSAs are less likely to report feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation, are less likely to hear homophobic remarks, and more likely to report that school personnel intervened when hearing such remarks."

Background:
In late 2010, four students at Mountain View High School in Meridian, Idaho, submitted an application to form a GSA to create a safe environment for LGBT students, foster respect for such students, and reduce anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination. At a Joint School District No. 2 Board of Trustees meeting on January 25, 2011, the Board voted to pull approval of the GSA from the consent agenda, and then voted to postpone action on the GSA pending a review of all student organizations "to make an intelligent decision on the existence of clubs in the district."

After the end of the school year, in July, the Board issued a proposed policy that - after exempting organizations whose membership is determined by election or are governed by the Idaho High Schools Activities Association - required students to obtain parental consent to join a club and prohibited any club that would "advocate or approve sexual activity outside of marriage," even though the GSA application did not indicate that it in any way involved approval of sexual activity. Nearly a year later, the GSA application is still pending.

The Joint School District No. 2 Board of Trustees is scheduled to consider the revised proposed policy at its September 13 meeting. A copy of the Lambda Legal and Idaho Safe Schools Coalition letter that prompted revisions to the proposed policy can be found here.

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Contact Info

Contact: Tom Warnke; 213-382-7600 ex 247;twarnke@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

The Idaho Safe Schools Coalition is a statewide organization devoted to helping Idaho schools become safe places for students, families, and educators, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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