The School Board at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, FL had a preliminary vote on Monday night in favor of allowing extra-curricular clubs to continue.
The existence of all student clubs were in question after a group of students, led by 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein, proposed a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to combat bullying directed toward LGBT students.
It was an all or nothing proposition, meaning if the GSA didn’t pass then no clubs would be allowed to exist. This was the contingency the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) mandated when they backed Silberstein in her fight for a school GSA.
Silberstein collected over 50,000 signatures, which she delivered to the school board. The vote was 3 to 2 in the preliminary vote in favor of allowing all student clubs, including the GSA, to run with parental consent.
The official vote will take place in early April, which will determine the final decision.
“I’ve been called a hero, and that’s something I couldn’t imagine. I’m not really a hero, just an 8th-grade girl in Leesburg,” said Silberstein in an interview with Local 6 news. “I hope it’ll protect the students in middle school, the ones that don’t have someone to stand up for them.”
An outcry ensued when the School Board announced the possible ban on non-academic extra-curricular student groups. If enacted, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) would be restricted from forming. The proposed club was denied a title for the 2011-2012 school year, and this year the battle has waged on.
Over 100 parents, students, locals, and even pastors attended the Lake County School Board meeting on February 18 to discuss the proposed Gay-Straight student club, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
Students passionately urged that the GSA is necessary in order to combat bullying. In a video interview, Silberstein commented on her beliefs, saying “I wanted to stand up for what I believed in and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer … it’s not fair to cancel all the clubs just because they don’t think this one makes sense.”
Silberstein pointed out that, for many, middle school represents a time to explore to help understand ones self.
“That’s what middle school is, it’s finding out who you are and it’s really difficult when you see other kids who already know who they are getting put down for it. So its even harder for them to come out about it in 7th grade or 8th grade … if they already know what’s going to happen, they don’t want to have to go through that,” said Silberstein.
The American Civil Liberties Union explained that through the federal Equal Access Act “schools can not discriminate among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss.”
However, District 3 School Board Member of the Lake County School district Tod Howard, explained that Lake County Middle Schools have 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds attending, and is concerned about whether or not the content of a GSA club is fit for young students.
“I am most concerned that it’s age appropriate, not just the GSA but all clubs,” he told 429Magazine.
“Our staff has no control over information distributed in that club … the conversation is completely student led.” He pointed out that “we have students that still believe in Santa Claus.”
Howard added that, “you can let everyone know out there that we are not a bunch of homophobes and bigots. We are really trying to do what is best for all of the students. It’s really important for us to make a decision for all of our students, all forty thousand of them.”