The federal Equal Access Act applies to any “public secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance.” If your school meets that definition, and you permit any “noncurricular student group” to use your facilities, you must permit any and all such groups, regardless of their religious or political beliefs. While the Equal Access Act was intended to benefit student prayer circles and Bible studies, its primary beneficiary has been the Gay-Straight Alliance and similar groups that support LGBT students.
A district in Florida received an application to allow a Gay-Straight group to meet at the Carver Middle School. Carver serves grades 6-8. Is that a “public secondary school”? According to the 11th Circuit, it is. Therefore, the school must permit the Gay-Straight Alliance group to meet.
The court based this ruling on the state law definition of “secondary education.” That’s because the Equal Access Act defines a “secondary school” as “a public school which provides secondary education as determined by State law.” Turning to Florida law, the court concluded that a school was “providing secondary education” if it provides courses for which students can obtain high school credit. Carver MS offers Algebra I. Kids who take that course in 8th grade get high school credit. Bingo—Carver is a “secondary school” and the Equal Access Act applies.
What about Texas? We suspect the answer would be the same. After all, our Administrative Code’s description of a “secondary curriculum” begins with grades 6-8.
The case is Carver Middle School Gay-Straight Alliance v. School Board of Lake County, Florida, decided by the 11th Circuit on December 6, 2016.
DAWG BONE: CHECK OUT STATE LAW TO SEE IF YOUR MIDDLE SCHOOL IS A “SECONDARY” SCHOOL
File this one under: EQUAL ACCESS ACT
Tomorrow: Another reminder of the fundamentals.