By: Amanda Sundquist
Following up on its recent guidance on bullying and harassment, on June 14, 2011 the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a “Dear Colleagues” letter regarding the impact of the Equal Access Act (the “Act”) on gay-straight alliances (GSA) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues. OCR reminds school districts that the Act applies to these student-initiated noncurricular groups as well.
Enacted in 1984, the Equal Access Act applies to public secondary schools that receive federal funding. If the school allows one or more noncurricular student groups to meet on its premises during noninstructional time, it has created a limited open forum and must comply with the Act. Schools may not then deny similar access to other noncurricular student groups based of the subject matter the group addresses. Also included with the “Dear Colleagues” letter are Legal Guidelines Regarding the Equal Access Act and the Recognition of Student-Led Noncurricular Groups. These guidelines address the scope of the Act, the school’s legal obligations, and issues that may arise when applying the Act.
For assistance in reviewing or developing your school district’s Equal Access Act policy or in answering questions regarding limited open forums, curriculum related groups, or other issues arising from the Act, please contact me in our West Chester office.