Court Ruling Expected Friday on School Meetings for Gay-Straight Student Club

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El Modena High School students seek fair treatment from Orange County officials
February 3, 2000

(SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA., Thursday, February 3, 2000) — A federal court is set to decide Friday morning whether Orange Unified School District officials must permit students to meet on school property and have equal access to school facilities for the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at El Modena High School.

Represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way Foundation, and Irell & Manella, LLP, the Gay-Straight Alliance club members are challenging school officials’ refusal to let them use school facilities since the beginning of the school year; they have asked for a preliminary injunction allowing them to meet while their case proceeds.

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter is expected to rule Friday, February 4 at 8:30 a.m. Attorneys for the students and at least one parent will meet with reporters outside the courthouse afterwards.

Judge Carter heard argument last month at a hearing that took an unexpected turn when the judge asked the club’s founders, 15-year-old Anthony Colín and 16-year-old Heather Zetin, to testify. Appearing in court just before semester finals at school, the students explained that they just wanted a place safe to talk about what it was like to be a gay teenager and how to deal with harassment in school. They also told the court that adults had not influenced or controlled their efforts. In another unexpected moment, the school’s principal said outside the courtroom that she would have approved the club if it had been up to her.

Toward the end of the three-day hearing, the judge read for the record recent state legislative findings on hate crimes and teen suicide, which accompanied hearings on a bill to prohibit discrimination or harassment of gay students in California public schools. The bill became law on January 1.

“The Orange Unified School Board's actions have been both outrageous and sad. The school officials are charged with the sacred duty of protecting children and instead they are endangering children by helping to create a climate of bigotry, fear and ignorance,” said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas.

Lambda Supervising Attorney Jon W. Davidson said, “These brave students are trying to build support and respect among their classmates. With this case, they also have been forced to teach a big lesson to the very school officials who should be helping them protect their learning environment. Hopefully, with the court’s help, that environment will be safer and fairer soon.”

WHAT: Ruling on preliminary injunction motion to allow students to have meetings and access to school facilities for Gay-Straight Alliance at El Modena High School

WHO: Attorneys for students, with at least one parent

WHERE: U.S. District Court for California’s Central District, 411 W. 4th St., Room 9D, Santa Ana

WHEN: Friday, February 4, 8:30 a.m.

(Anthony Colín, et al. v. Orange Unified School District, No. SA CV 99-1461)

CONTACT: PFAWF – Margot Friedman 202-467-4999, or Kendra Huard 310-478-6657 or 310-617-6718(cell); Lambda – Peg Byron 212-809-8585 or 888-987-1984 (pager), or Myron Dean Quon 323-937-2728, ext. 229


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