GSA? No Way In PA!: Keystone State School District Risks Lawsuit Over Refusal To Permit Equal-Access Club

It’s ironic that when Congress was debating the Equal Access Act, conservatives were the ones really pushing for the law. They were eager to see students form Christian clubs, and it’s incredible that they didn’t realize the law makes it easier for everyone to create a club – including those the Religious Right finds offensive.

Most government bodies do everything in their power to avoid lawsuits, but some do things so foolish that they seem to be begging someone to sue them. One entity that apparently welcomes the prospect of a long and costly legal battle is the governing board of the Chambersburg Area School District in Pennsylvania.

Recently, the board voted 5-4 not to allow a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. A news report on the vote did not include any comments from the five who voted against the club, but the story did make one very important point: The 1984 Federal Equal Access Act requires secondary schools to allow a variety of student-run religious and non-religious voluntary clubs that meet during “non-instructional” time. This law was later upheld by the Supreme Court.

And the board cannot plead ignorance, here. Before the vote Stephanie Metz, an educator in nearby Shippensburg who is a Chambersburg resident, warned the board of the consequences that could come from banning a GSA. She said, according to the Chambersburg Public Opinion, that she doesn’t want her tax dollars to be used on a court case because the Constitution allows equal opportunity when it comes to student club formation.

At least one board member, Kim Amsley-Camp, who voted to allow the club, seems to be well aware of what’s at stake here. Public Opinion reported that Amsley-Camp said prior to the vote that she contacted the Pennsylvania Association of School Boards about the GSA club and was informed that the district has to allow the club under the Equal Access Act.

The alternative, Amsley-Camp was told, is that the school has the option to allow no clubs at all. It seems that the board wouldn’t care much for that plan, since Chambersburg Area Senior High School has not one, but two Christian clubs open to students.  

Others who spoke up at the meeting noted that gay students need support because they are at a much higher risk for suicide, while others simply said allowing a GSA club is a matter of fairness.

 “Students need a place to talk safely,” said Matthew Basillo, who planned to serve as a mentor for the new club. “Is this need being addressed? It’s not. They need a place to feel safe, dispel myths, grow and prosper.”

It’s ironic that when Congress was debating the Equal Access Act, conservatives were the ones really pushing for the law. They were eager to see students form Christian clubs, and it’s incredible that they didn’t realize the law makes it easier for everyone to create a club – including those the Religious Right finds offensive.

If the board won’t reverse its decision or ban all student clubs, there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to sue the school district back to the Stone Age. That would be pretty fitting, since it seems some of the board’s members already act like they live there anyway.