Student group files lawsuit against schools

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PENDLETON — Claiming the school district is not allowing it to exercise the same rights as other clubs, the student-led Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance (PHGSA) is suing the school and the school corporation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU), on behalf of PHGSA, filed a lawsuit Wednesday, Sept. 22, according to the ACLU, maintaining the school has imposed undue, unequal burdens on the group.
The suit was filed with the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.
South Madison Community School Corp. superintendent Mark Hall said, as of Tuesday, Sept. 28, they had not received any court papers.
“We have not been served the complaint,” Hall said. “Due to it being pending litigation, I can’t make a comment.”
The PHGSA provides gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary and allied students a place to meet, as well as social, emotional and educational support to one another.
PHGSA is considered an unofficial club at the school.
According to the lawsuit, Pendleton Heights principal Connie Rickert has ruled the PHGSA can meet, but cannot publicize its existence on school bulletin boards or WEEM (the school’s radio station), while other curricular and non-curricular groups are able to do so.
It cannot fund raise on school property nor do any advertising on school grounds.
The lawsuit claims the differential treatment meted out to PHGSA violates First Amendment rights of the group and its members and violates the Equal Access Act, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“This group aims to create an environment that provides support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” said Kit Malone, advocacy strategist at ACLU of Indiana, in a press release. “The differential treatment aimed at Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance by administrators is unwarranted and these students must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated.”
The release states that by not allowing PHGSA to advertise and attract student members the group is severely hindered in its purpose as a place of shelter, support and education, not just for LGBTQ students, but for all Pendleton Heights High School students.
“Students at Pendleton Heights High School may participate in non-
curricular clubs recognized by the school,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “By creating additional hurdles for Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance such as censoring the group’s promotions and prohibiting fundraising, the school is infringing on these students’ rights.”
It isn’t the first time the group has had issues with the school.
In May, toward the end of the 2020-21 school year, members of PHGSA and family members, area residents and other concerned citizens spoke to the school board on its disapproval of a board decision to remove LGBTQ pride flags from classrooms at Pendleton Heights.