A Gay Straight Alliance Club will be allowed to operate at Chambersburg Area High School, at least for now.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the club will have the same rights and privileges as other clubs until next Wednesday. The school board will discuss topic at its board meeting that night under old business.
Board members had until Wednesday to respond to the ACLU, who threatened legal action if the district didn't allow the club to form.
According to a press release from the ACLU-PA, the organization is warning the Chambersburg School board that their vote against a Gay Straight Alliance is against federal law.
The organization, as well as the group 'Equality PA' sent a letter on Tuesday to the school district on behalf of a group of Chambersburg Area High School students who requested the club.
According to the letter, the school board's decision to deny the group status as an official club, is a violation of federal law. The letter gives the district until March 15, to reverse its decision or face legal action.
According to the ALCU-PA, the school district has previously granted approval for a number of non-curricular student groups at the high school, including the Bible Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Ping Pong Club.
The letter says, CASD is in violation of the federal Equal Access Act, which requires public schools to treat all non-curricular student clubs equally. Federal courts have consistently upheld the Equal Access Act’s protection for students wishing to form GSAs.
To read the full letter, click here: http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/chambersburgareaschooldist.htm
Equality Pennsylvania, a group based in Harrisburg, says a local school district’s vote against a Gay Straight Alliance at its high school is illegal.
The national club says it is a place to provide a safe zone for students who identify as gay or lesbian, and for their heterosexual peers who support them.
Just beyond those walls, five out of the nine school board members struck down a Gay-Straight Alliance club to form at the high school. Now a group advocating for gay and lesbians say that it isn't legal.
“So they really have to abide by law,” stated Ted Martin, Executive Director of Equality PA.
On Wednesday night, the Chambersburg school board voted against forming a Gay-Straight Alliance.
Equality PA in Harrisburg advocates for gay and lesbian rights and says if the school district allows other clubs in the school, they have to let this club form.
“It's a decision governed by the courts, which basically say they don't have a choice,” Martin added.
School board member Joan Smith voted in favor, all though at first she had reservations.
“I'm sad it turned out the way it did but I'm sure there are going to be repercussions,” Smith told CBS 21.
School board member Carl Barton voted against the club. By phone today he said the club wouldn't do enough to stop bullying.
He went on to say that the board members are friends or related to some gay and lesbian people and that this wasn't an issue of moral values.
“The Federal Equal Access Act, public schools may not deny the ability of a gay straight alliance to form if the school allows other extra-curricular student organizations to meet. Federal law mandates that any school that allows a non-academic student organization must allow students to organize a GDA. In this case, Chambersburg is clearly not above the law,” stated a release by Equality PA.
“Maybe with something happening along the line to deter that now, maybe the other board members would change their mind and just say okay,” Joan Smith added.
Thomas McCalmont graduated from Chambersburg in 2010.
“It really affected me deeply, I was lucky to have the support systems I had,” McCalmont told us.
He took to the internet and formed a petition through change.org. Where every time some one virtually signs it, those members who voted no get an email.
“I think they'll put up a fight still but I'm hoping they'll change their mind before getting in too much trouble.” McCalmont addressed.
We reached out to all of the school board members Friday, they either turned down all on camera interviews or did not respond to our calls.
School Superintendent Joe Padasak told us he wasn't interested in speaking on camera. saying its old news now that the board made its decision.
The board for Chambersburg Area School District voted five to four Wednesday night, against starting a Gay Straight Alliance club in the high school.
School Board Member Joan Smith, that voted to allow the club, says the decision should be based on what the students want and nothing else. "Kids need to feel like when they come to school, that they're in a place where they can be respected. And not to be criticized, ridiculed, just prosecuted for walking down the hallways. And if it takes having a club for those children those students to have respect than so be it." Statement from Equality of Pennsylvania:
"For more than a decade, school districts across the country have instituted Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student organizations in their high schools to ensure a safe space for students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. The Chambersburg School Board has chosen to deny student’s that right. Equality Pennsylvania asks the Board to reconsider that unfortunate earlier vote.
The School Board has a wonderful opportunity to let their LGBT students know that they don't have to wait until they get older to have a safe space to be themselves and that they can have it right now, at Chambersburg High School. This is the Board’s chance to be a voice for equal access to a safe learning environment for ALL of their students.
Under the federal Equal Access Act, public schools may not deny the ability of a Gay Straight Alliance to form if the school allows other extra-curricular student organizations to meet. Federal Law mandates that any school that allows a non-academic student organization must allow students to organize a GSA. In this case, Chambersburg is clearly not above the law. The School Board must now do what is right by students morally and legally.
Equality Pennsylvania strongly recommends that the Chambersburg School Board reconsider their decision on a Gay Straight Alliance at Chambersburg High School. Given the lack of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law in Pennsylvania, local School Districts are left on their own to ensure safe environments for LGBT students to learn and to be themselves. Equality Pennsylvania is hopeful that the members of the Chambersburg School Board will do the right thing and allow students to organize a GSA in their district."