A controversial lawsuit by East High members of a Gay-Straight Alliance against the Salt Lake City School Board is still in the works, after the school board refused an out-of-court settlement with the club last week. Also, no defendants will be dropped from the lawsuit, a judge ruled Thursday.
Filed last month, the suit revisits the school club controversy that erupted late in 1995 when a senior at East High sought permission to create a Gay-Straight Alliance club.In the Thursday ruling, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins dismissed a motion by the school board to drop Superintendent Darline Robles and Assistant Superintendent Harold Trussel from the lawsuit. The judge said the two were "intimately connected" with the board's 1996 vote that banned 46 noncurricular clubs from high schools.
On May 20, the school board responded with a one-sentence decline to a plaintiff's offer to settle out of court. In exchange for reinstating a forum for all clubs to meet and be recognized at high schools, the plaintiffs offered to drop their suit and attorneys fees.
Stephen Clark, legal director for the Utah ACLU, called the move to continue the suit "a waste of taxpayers' money" and a "ridiculous, myopic policy."
Clark said the door is now open for "incredible exploration and discovery," involving more than 40 depositions on both sides of the case.
Assistant general attorney Elizabeth King said that the school board chose to decline the settlement to avoid opening up the potential for hate groups and controversies on campus.
"The school board knew that they had a legal right (to close the forum for clubs to meet)," King said.
Student walk-outs and protests followed when the school board banned all clubs from Salt Lake high schools in February 1996, except those directly related to the curriculum.
Even the Utah Senate got involved in the act, holding an illegal closed meeting where they discussed the gay-rights issue in private.
While the defendants and plaintiffs agree that the school board has the right to close the forum for clubs, they disagree on the board's policy and handling of the curricular and noncurricular clubs.
The suit alleges that Robles, Trussel and the board discriminated in deciding upon a list of curriculum-related clubs allowed to meet at the district's high schools. Also, the suit alleges, some noncurricular clubs were given the same privileges as the curricular-related clubs.
Noncurricular clubs can still meet on campus under the Utah Civic Center Act. But they have to obtain a civic sponsor and pay for insurance and rent. Also, they cannot advertise.
"There are a number of clubs that the school district claims are curricular-related that are not curricular-related," said plaintiff attorney John Davidson, from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in Los Angeles.
"They cheated when they set up the curriculum test," he said.
The plaintiffs contend that the Future Business Leaders of America and the Future Homemakers of America are not curriculum-related, and that their recognition by the board discriminates.
Also, plaintiffs allege that the Key Club, a noncurricular club, was allowed to advertise in the student bulletin, a privilege that other noncurricular clubs do not have.
Even if the school board drops the FBLA and FHA clubs from the list of curriculum-related clubs, there are other issues important to the lawsuit that would carry it on, Clark said.
When asked if GSA members have taken any flack lately, parent Ivy Fox said, "Most of the kids are like, live and let live. A lot of the kids would like their clubs back." Fox, a mother of GSA member Kay Fox, is one of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiff's lawyers come from the Utah and Calfornia American Civil Liberties Union, San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights and New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, two gay-rights group advocates.