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How to File A Complaint: Equal Access Act
Jan 30th, 2015 by

How to File A Complaint: Equal Access Act

Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing  Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender (LGBT)  issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. Nationwide, students are forming these groups in part to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students and to promote understanding and respect in the school community. Although the efforts of these groups focus primarily on the needs of LGBT students, students who have LGBT family members and friends, and students who are perceived to be LGBT, messages of respect, tolerance, and inclusion benefit all our students. By encouraging dialogue and providing supportive resources, these groups can help make schools safe and affirming environments for everyone.

But in spite of the positive effect these groups can have in schools, some such groups have been unlawfully excluded from school grounds, prevented from forming, or denied access to school resources. These same barriers have sometimes been used to target religious and other student groups, leading Congress to pass the Equal Access Act.

In 1984, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Equal Access Act, requiring public secondary schools to provide equal access for extracurricular clubs. Rooted in principles of equal treatment and freedom of expression, the Act protects student-initiated groups of all types.  By allowing students to discuss difficult issues openly and honestly, in a civil manner, our schools become forums for combating ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and discrimination.

The Act requires public secondary schools to treat all student-initiated groups equally, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters discussed at their meetings. Its protections apply to groups that address issues relating to LGBT students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity, just as they apply to religious and other student groups.

Although specific implementation of the Equal Access Act depends upon contextual circumstances, these guidelines reflect basic obligations imposed on public school officials by the Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The general rule, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, is that a public high school that allows at least one noncurricular student group to meet on school grounds during noninstructional time (e.g., lunch, recess, or before or after school) may not deny similar access to other noncurricular student groups, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters that the groups address.

 

Source: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/110607.html
 

How to File a Complaint of Violations of the Equal Access Act

There is no government body tasked with specific oversight of the Equal Access Act. However, several  federal and state agencies do have authority to handle complaints based on civil rights violations. Complaints may be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office
or on the Connecticut state level with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

  1. Federal:


U.S. Department of Justice
 Civil Rights Division

 

The Educational Opportunities Section enforces federal laws that protect students from harassment or discrimination. The Section is responsible for enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in public schools and institutions of higher learning; the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 which, among other things, requires states and school districts to provide English Language Learner (ELL) students with appropriate services to overcome language barriers; and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination. The Section also plays a significant role in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal funds); Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex by recipients of federal funds); and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (both of which address disability discrimination and appropriate disability-related services).

The Educational Opportunities Section accepts complaints of potential violations:

  • By e-mail to education@usdoj.gov
  • By telephone at (202) 514-4092 or 1-877-292-3804 (toll-free)
  • By facsimile at (202) 514-8337
  • By letter to the following address:

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Educational Opportunities Section, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530
In order to properly respond to a complaint, the Section requests that complainants provide their name, address, and the name of the school/school district/university where the alleged discrimination occurred. Additional information regarding how to file a complaint is available at http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/

 

 

 

 

  1. Federal

    United States Attorney’s Office – District of Connecticut
    New Haven Office – Headquarters

US Attorney’s Office

New Haven Office

Connecticut Financial Center

157 Church Street

Floor 25

New Haven, CT 06510

(203) 821-3700

Fax: (203) 773- 5376

* for a list of U.S. Attorneys in other states go to http://www.justice.gov/usao/us-attorneys-listing

 

  1. Connecticut:

 

Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (Connecticut)

25 Sigourney Street

Hartford, CT 06106

860/ 541-3400

Connecticut Toll Free 1-800-477-5737

TDD 860-541-3459

 

Agency Mission: The mission of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) is to eliminate discrimination through civil and human rights law enforcement and to establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons within the state through advocacy and education.

Statutory Authority: Connecticut General Statutes, Chapter 814c. Link directly to the Connecticut General Statutes at: CT General Statutes 2011

It is the statutory responsibility of the Commission to:

  • Enforce human rights laws that ban illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit transactions.
  • Monitor compliance with state contract compliance laws and with laws requiring affirmative action in state agency personnel practices.
  • Establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons in Connecticut through education and outreach activities.

 

Connecticut law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation such as schools. If students have been denied an opportunity for equal access in a place of public accommodation based on their protected class status, they may be able to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

 

 

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College Guide for Current and Prospective LGBT Students
Jun 5th, 2014 by

Aspiring college students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) face a unique set of challenges when looking at schools. Recent studies indicate that 3.5% of adults in the U.S. identify as LGBT. This small but important subset of the population, roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey, must consider a school’s inclusion efforts, as well as their safety and support provisions for LGBT students.

Among this 3.5% are college-aged young people who may identify across a fluid spectrum of sexual identities. LGBT is often expanded to LGBTQIA to include four additional self-identifying terms — queer, intersex, asexual and ally. Since LGBT remains the most common parlance of gender equality groups on U.S. campuses, we’ll use the four-letter original in this guide.

Fortunately, many schools have adopted a culture of awareness and respect for the LGBT community. Many others have active, vocal LGBT advocacy programs on campus, and some even offer LGBT studies and housing. The following guide should get you started on your search for a comfortable school environment.

read more ………..

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Love is All You Need? full length movie
Apr 28th, 2013 by

All You Need Is Love? highlights a teen living in a world that exists in opposition to the one we live in now.

In this short, the terms “gay” and “straight” and the conceptions and cultural stigmas attached to them are completely reversed. What makes this video so powerful is its inclusion of family and community, showing that intolerance can fester in any number of places. Honest performances and a beautiful message, this short film is one not to miss.

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U.N. Secretary General Says: “The Time Has Come”
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Students’ Right to Form Gay/Straight Alliances
Aug 20th, 2011 by

ACLU

Students’ Right to Form Gay/Straight Alliances

Introduction

Every year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah receives calls from Utah high school students who wish to form student clubs in which they can create a safe, welcoming, and accepting environment for all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Often called Gay/Straight Alliances, or GSAs, these clubs are important resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, as well as for those who are perceived by others to be LGBT, who are questioning their identity, who have LGBT friends or family members, or who just care about LGBT issues. Unfortunately, some school administrators and lawmakers have discouraged students from forming GSAs, either by attempting to prohibit the clubs outright, or by denying them the same access to school resources as other student clubs. This resource explains why both of these tactics are illegal and why students have the right to form GSAs in their public high schools.

Why do schools have to allow GSAs?
GSAs must be understood in the context of the 1984 federal Equal Access Act. Under the Equal Access Act, if a public high school allows any student group whose purpose is not directly related to the curriculum to meet on school grounds, then it must provide all other non-curricular student groups equal access to the school’s resources. In other words, schools may not pick and choose among non-curricular student clubs based on their preferences for what students discuss. If the school does so and it treats some non-curricular clubs differently than others, then it risks losing its federal funding. The Equal Access Act upholds students’ rights to free speech and association, which are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

What is the difference between curricular and non-curricular clubs?
The Equal Access Act applies to non-curricular clubs, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said are student clubs that are not “directly related” to the curriculum. Generally, groups like a chess club or a community service club, such as Key Club, are considered to be non-curricular because the club’s subject is not taught in any class. In contrast, curricular clubs relate directly to subjects taught in the school, like a math or a Spanish club. Under the Equal Access Act, if a school allows any non-curricular club to meet, then it must allow a GSA to meet as well. The distinction between curricular and non-curricular clubs becomes especially important if a school district decides to prohibit all non-curricular student clubs, which is what the Salt Lake City School District did in 1996 in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to keep the East High School GSA from meeting.

Can a GSA be a curricular club?
The First Amendment prohibits schools from discriminating among curricular clubs because school officials do not like a particular student group’s message. While GSAs are often classified as non-curricular clubs, there have been some that have been found to be curricular. In 2000, for example, a federal judge found that the East High School PRISM Club, which sought to discuss curricular subjects, such as government, law, history, and sociology through the perspectives of lesbians and gay men, was a curricular student club. The ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit on behalf of PRISM Club members after the Salt Lake City School District denied their application by erroneously classifying their club as non-curricular. After that ruling, the Salt Lake City School District granted club status to both the East High GSA and the PRISM Club, ending its four year ban on non-curricular student clubs.

What is the current Utah law regarding student clubs?
During their 2007 general session, the Utah State Legislature passed House Bill 236, “Student Clubs Amendments,” which imposes extensive new requirements for curricular and non-curricular student clubs. HB 236 prohibits clubs whose activities “would as a substantial, material, or significant part … encourage criminal or delinquent conduct; promote bigotry; involve human sexuality; or involve any effort to engage in or conduct mental health therapy, counseling, or psychological services for which a license would be required under state law.” In the past, lawmakers have hoped that the “involve human sexuality” clause, which has been a part of Utah law since 1996, would allow districts to prohibit GSAs while keeping other non-curricular clubs in their schools. This thinking ignores the fact that the focus of GSAs is not sex but issues related to sexual orientation and how to combat unfair treatment and prejudice. Also, if school officials assume that a GSA will discuss sex but other clubs will not, they unfairly (and unconstitutionally) single out a club based on a stereotype.

While we don’t yet know for certain how HB 236 will be applied, we are concerned that the new law may make it more difficult for students who wish to form GSAs because:

Students must now obtain “written parental or guardian consent” in order to participate in any curricular or non-curricular club. The sad fact is that the students most impacted by this requirement—those who feel they cannot express gay-positive viewpoints to their parents and those whose parents are not active enough in their lives to sign a permission slip—are the ones who would most benefit from being part of a GSA. In addition to being harmful for students, we believe that the parental consent requirement may be unconstitutional as well. The new law allows a third party (parents and guardians) to prohibit students from exercising their First Amendment right to expressive association by joining a school club. For many students, joining a school club is their first independent exercise of their constitutional rights to expression and association, and they should not have to ask their parents for permission to do so.
HB 236 contains vague language that may give administrators and teachers the false idea that they may ban clubs they find objectionable. The new law requires that student clubs “maintain the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior,” and it prohibits clubs that “violate concepts of civility or propriety appropriate to a school setting.” Schools unfamiliar with the requirements of the Equal Access Act may view this language as a mandate to ban GSAs because they or members of the community find them to be controversial. Such a ban would clearly be in violation of students’ constitutional rights; however, without a challenge from club members, who may be reluctant to take on their school authorities, a GSA could effectively be prohibited from meeting.
How does a student form a GSA?
Starting a GSA is like starting any other club. Unfortunately, that process just got a little more complicated with the passage of HB 236. Under the new law, students must submit a written application for club authorization that must include specific information, such as a statement of the club’s purpose, goals, and activities, the recommended meeting times, a statement that members of the club will abide by all applicable rules and laws, and a budget. Students should ask their school for a list of rules for forming an official student organization and then follow those rules carefully. Just in case they run into any problems, students should document the application process by keeping a record of the dates when they submitted something to the school, how and when the school responded, as well as copies of any material they submitted. If a school denies a GSA application, then they must provide students with a written statement explaining why. Students then have the right to appeal this decision to “a designee authorized by the school governing board.” Students must file this appeal within ten school days from the date their club application was denied.

Are there clubs that schools can prohibit?
Public schools can prohibit clubs that are materially disruptive to the school’s educational activities. However, schools cannot claim that a GSA is disruptive if that disruption is actually coming from other students, parents, or community members who do not like the fact that the group is meeting, rather than from the club members themselves. School officials can also prohibit speech that is indecent, lewd, or sexually explicit, but they can take action only once that speech has occurred and cannot ban a club simply because they think its members will engage in this type of speech. Additionally, schools cannot require that any reference to sexual orientation be removed from the club’s name, since doing so changes the focus and goals of the club and may violate students’ free speech rights under the First Amendment.

Are there other policies students should be aware of?
Student clubs are also regulated by the Utah State School Board and the local school district. These policies cannot be more restrictive than the Equal Access Act or the First Amendment.

Are GSAs permitted in private schools?
Private schools do not have to abide by the requirements of the Equal Access Act or the First Amendment, and they may be able to legally prohibit GSAs.

What can students do if they are having a difficult time forming a GSA, if their GSA application has been denied, or if their school is threatening to disband an existing GSA?
The ACLU of Utah is committed to protecting students’ constitutional rights, and we can advocate on behalf of students whose schools are trying to block GSAs or are treating GSAs differently than other student clubs. Students can contact the ACLU of Utah either by filling out our online intake form at www.acluutah.org/intake.htm or by calling us at (801) 521-9862 ext 101.

Additional Information
Resources

ACLU information on LGBT issues in the school
“Dealing with Legal Matters Surrounding Students’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”
Jump-Start: Tools for students and gay-straight alliances
Laws and Policies

Equal Access Act
HB 236 “Student Clubs Amendments”
Rule R277-617 Authorization of Student Clubs and Organizations
Utah Cases

East High Gay/Straight Alliance v. Board of Education and East High School PRISM Club v. Cynthia L. Seidel
 

 

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