The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened a costly lawsuit on behalf of an eighth-grader who says school officials at a middle school in Lake County, Florida have thwarted for two years her attempts to establish a gay-straight alliance on campus.
The student, Bayli Silberstein, attends Carver Middle School in Leesburg, a sleepy retirement destination in Central Florida. She believes that forming a gay-straight alliance at Carver will reduce what she describes as an epidemic of bullying, reports local ABC affiliate WFTV.
“It’s not something kids our age should have to deal with,” Silberstein told the station.
Silbertsein’s mother, who contacted the ACLU, was also fed up with the bullying.
“As a parent, it was a struggle to hear about some of the things that were going on at my daughter’s school,” Erica Silberstein told FlaglerLive. “The kids were asking for a support system, but the school didn’t seem very invested in the idea.”
Silberstein also said that she and her friends have been harassed at school because of their sexual preferences.
“It hurt, and that is something that I did not want to see continuing,” she added.
The exact sexual preferences of the 14-year-old girl and her friends — while very strongly implied — are not clear.
This week, the ACLU of Florida entered the fray by sending a letter to a school district attorney.
“Under the Equal Access Act, schools may not pick and choose among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss,” the letter reads, according to FlaglerLive. “If a public school allows any student group whose purpose is not directly related to the school’s curriculum to meet on school grounds during lunch or before or after school, then it cannot deny other student groups the same access to the school because of the content of their proposed discussions. The Act specifically provides that a school cannot deny equal access to student clubs because of the ‘religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.’”
The letter threatened a lawsuit potentially costing taxpayers a few hundred thousand dollars in legal fees if school officials continue to deny the girl’s efforts to start the group.
Two principals in succession have reportedly denied the request to allow a gay-straight alliance at Carver Middle School, notes FlaglerLive. The first one, David Bordenkircher, flatly denied the application. The current principal, Mollie Cunningham, is apparently more receptive, but not enough to give a green light to the new group.
“She said her biggest thing was that she thought we were going to be singling ourselves out even more,” Silberstein told WFTV.