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Georgia school
officials settle with ACLU to allow GSA

Georgia school
officials settle with ACLU to allow GSA

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A settlement has been reached between the American Civil Liberties Union and officials in White County, Ga., who had refused to permit a gay-straight alliance club to meet at White County High School.

A settlement has been reached between the American Civil Liberties Union--representing students in a gay-straight alliance--and officials in White County, Ga., who had refused to permit the club to meet at White County High School, the ACLU announced Wednesday.

Local media reported December 26 that a settlement had been tentatively reached, but Wednesday's announcement makes it official.

"I'm just so happy this is all over and that our school is doing the right thing," Charlene Hammersen, one of the founders of the alliance, called Peers Rising in Diverse Education (PRIDE), told the ACLU. "It's taken almost two years to get here, but we're as determined as we've always been to promote diversity and fight harassment against gay students at our school. This is really great for every student that goes to White County High."

The school has agreed to implement a no-tolerance policy for harassment of LGBT students in grades 9 through 12 and provide the faculty yearly training on discouraging antigay bullying.

"This is a tremendous victory for everyone involved in the case and for all students at White County High School," said James Esseks, litigation director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "We're pleased that we helped to ensure that all students can participate in extracurricular clubs, including the PRIDE club, and that the school has agreed to changes that we believe will make its hallways safer for all of its students."

In February 2006 the ACLU sued the White County school district after the high school disbanded noncurricular clubs just after the formation of the gay-straight alliance. The ACLU's case centered on the federal Equal Access Act, which requires schools to provide equal treatment to all noncurricular clubs, and other civil rights statutes. Five months later a federal judge ordered the school to allow the alliance and other school clubs to meet.

"Throughout the course of this lawsuit I've only wanted what every parent wants--for my children to be able to go to school in an environment that's safe," Savannah Pacer said to the ACLU. Pacer's daughter Kerry was the founding president of PRIDE before graduating; her other daughter, Lindsay, is a member. Kerry was The Advocate's Person of the Year for 2005. "I'm so proud of my daughters for their role in changing hearts and minds and for helping bring about this settlement, which is a good thing for the whole school community. This is a happy day for all of us."

Esseks agreed: "The Equal Access Act guarantees the rights of students to form all kinds of clubs--from GSAs to religious clubs--and students at White County High School now know they can exercise that right."

Similar legal battles brought by GSAs have been won in Salt Lake City; Orange County, Calif.; Franklin Township, Ind.; Boyd County, Ky.; and Osseo, Minn. (The Advocate)

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