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Battle for gay student group goes to court in Colorado

Battle for gay student group goes to court in Colorado

A Colorado Springs, Colo., high school Wednesday defended its use of a two-track system in recognizing student clubs that provides privileges to one type while denying them to a second type, which includes the Gay-Straight Alliance. Federal courts had already made clear that if any non-class-related clubs were allowed at a public high school, then all student-created and student-led clubs must be permitted. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case, says there are 50 such clubs at other Colorado high schools and more than 2,000 around the country, set up after the passage of the Equal Access Act. The clubs seek to promote tolerance of gay and lesbian students. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, which has refused to recognize the GSA as a full-fledged student group, created a two-track system for student groups. Groups in the first class, deemed to be related to the curriculum, would be allowed to use the public address system and post notices on campus. Organizations in the second group, with no direct connection to curriculum, could meet at the school but could not use the PA system or post notices. Lawyer Alfred McDonnell, representing the GSA for the American Civil Liberties Union, conceded that federal court decisions, including those of the Supreme Court, had not dealt clearly with a two-track system. "There are no cases that have this two-track approach. We have our quotes; they have their quotes," he said. McDonnell said, however, that there is nothing in the Equal Access Act that authorizes the exclusion of non-class-related groups. U.S. district judge Richard Matsch agreed that the Supreme Court had not resolved questions regarding the two-system approach. "We believe deference is owed" to the decisions made by school officials, who carefully study each request to form a student group, said Eric Bentley, the attorney representing the school district. McDonnell said the decision against the GSA was discriminatory because two other clubs were granted official club status to meet and talk about current events and learn tolerance of other cultures. Matsch said the definition of current events seems key to the dispute. "Current events seems like it cuts across any reasonable curriculum in a high school in a democracy," Matsch said. He noted that gay marriage had become a much-talked-about news item. The judge also said that issues of freedom of speech could come into play when a full trial is held in the case. No trial date has been set.

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