East Allen County Schools and the American Civil Liberties Union settled a federal lawsuit alleging the district unfairly put limits on a student-run group for LGBTQ students and their allies at Leo High School.
The limits included insisting the Leo Pride Alliance not use GSA, or gay-straight alliance, in its name and requiring organizers to send a list of all club members to all faculty. The ACLU sued the district in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, arguing the actions violated students' rights to free speech.
EACS denied the allegations but agreed to allow the group to change its name to Leo GSA, according to a statement from the ACLU. A judge on Friday dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it can't be filed again.
“The student led Gay Straight Alliance group at Leo High School must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated,” the ACLU said in a news release announcing the settlement. “We are pleased that East Allen County Schools agreed to the equal treatment of the group, relieving these students of any unwarranted burdens.”
The lawsuit filed Nov. 30 claimed school officials stopped the group from using words and acronyms such as gay and “LGBT+” and restricted the club from holding meetings in school rooms other than that of the club's faculty adviser – something that wasn't required of other clubs in place at the high school.
The group had about 30 members, according to the lawsuit, and sought to name itself Leo GSA when it was recognized as a club in 2016. Administrators said no and Leo Pride – an acronym for “Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Diligence and Excellence” – was foisted upon it, the lawsuit alleged.
Tamyra Kelly, an EACS spokeswoman, said at the time the district would investigate the claims, writing in an email, “We take the rights of our students seriously.” She could not be reached Friday.
The school district never responded to the lawsuit in court, except to ask a judge for more time to file a reply, records show.
ACLU attorney Kenneth Falk and Jason Clagg, who represented the district in the case, filed paperwork Thursday agreeing to dismiss the case. Each side will pay its own costs and attorneys' fees, according to the agreement.
“GSA groups across the country provide an important service, offering social, emotional and educational support to students during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” the news release states.