Rowan schools ban GSA, break federal law

In a move that could cost Rowan County taxpayers thousands of dollars in attorney fees for a court case the schools will definitely lose, the Rowan-Salisbury School System Board of Education voted Monday night to ban all “sex-based clubs” from their school system. The policy effectively bans the student gay-straight organization formed at South Rowan High School last year.

The new policy, which was created for the sole purpose of banning the Gay-Straight Alliance, uses the system’s already existing abstinence-only sex education for the basis of its regulations.

According to an article published by the Salisbury Post, Tuesday, August 15, 2006:

In April, the board agreed to ban clubs such as the Gay/ Straight Alliance, voting to instruct the staff and attorneys to develop a policy.

The club at South Rowan, which sparked the controversy, had continued to function through the end of the school year.

The board waived its usual requirement of two readings for policy adoptions, allowing the policy to be in effect when school opens next week.

The policy became effective upon adoption.

Board Chairman Bryce Beard said later that the new policy has been thoroughly reviewed by attorneys. He expressed confidence it can withstand a legal challenge.

That challenge might be coming soon.

“We have concerns that the policy … is illegal,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Raleigh office. “When a school allows extracurricular clubs, it’s all or nothing. They can’t discriminate … They can’t pick and choose.” Rudinger cited the 1984 federal Equal Access law.

Rudinger said she is not aware of any county or city school district that has a policy similar to the one adopted by the Rowan-Salisbury school board.

“It’s absolutely misnamed to call it a sex-based club. It’s inappropriate,” said Rudinger who has been in contact with students and parents of the South Rowan club. “These kids want to create a safe environment, to foster tolerance and acceptance. It’s inappropriate and factually wrong to call them some kind of sex-based club. It’s really a shame.”

Rudinger noted that the ACLU has successfully represented students who wanted to have a Bible club at schools and were initially banned. She said the same law protects the Gay/Straight Alliance.

Mike Clawson, president of the Salisbury-Rowan Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays, also cited the Equal Access Act in an e-mail to the Post. “Simply put, the school cannot ban a Gay/Straight Alliance based on issues of morality if the Gay/Straight Alliance does not interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities.”

Overwhelmingly, lawsuits across the country have continued to side with LGBT and straight students seeking the right to form gay-straight student organizations which work on diversity, tolerance, acceptance and school safety and climate issues for LGBT students. If this move by the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education leads to a lawsuit, thousands of dollars in taxpayer money is going to go down the drain, instead of being placed where it should be: On the students.

Denying the formation of a gay-straight student group has been continuously deemed a violation of the federal Equal Access Act of 1984. The Rowan-Salisbury School System is in a very dangerous and precarious situation. I wonder if they know they could lose federal funding for this?

See related posts: South Rowan High School & Rowan Salisbury School System

UPDATE: This story has already gone national. It was featured on, here is the News article, the Advocate article and another. Also… here is Pam’s post.

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2 Responses to “Rowan schools ban GSA, break federal law”
  1. Midori says:

    Actually, the school board is being represented in this matter by a law firm that has pledged not to charge anything for its services. The school board members were careful to make sure the large amounts of taxpayer money you refer to are not at stake.

    Also, there is some case law to support the school board’s move. A school in Texas passed a similar policy that was upheld in federal court. I’m a little surprised the ACLU claims ignorance of it, since it appears on Lambda Legal’s website under cases it represented.

    I understand the concern about losing federal funding over this, but I don’t think that should be a fear. Of the numerous cases filed under the Equal Access Act, I have not come across any in which a school actually lost federal funding. Should the school board lose, the policy would simply be declared void, and life would go on as usual.

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  1. […] Here is the policy which was adopted by the Rowan-Salisbury School Board to ban the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances on August 14, 2006. Section E (below) was the only section amended/changed: […]

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