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A federal appeals court has ruled that LGBT students may proceed against a Florida middle school that denied its application for a student club.
In reversing the dismissal of the club's lawsuit, the Eleventh Circuit said that Florida law gives middle school and high school students the same rights to form extra-curricular clubs. The justices said Florida's law inconsistently defines "secondary education," but concluded that a middle school is a secondary school for equal access purposes.
"We conclude that 'secondary education,' under Florida law, means at least 'courses through which a person receives high school credit that leads to the award of a high school diploma,'" the justices said in reversing and remanding the case.
Unless the school district appeals, the district court will now decide whether Carver Middle School must accept the club. The appellate court decision has far-reaching implications, however.
The ACLU, which represented the LGBT students in the case, says the ruling puts middle school students on the same level as high school students throughout the state. The case began in 2013 when students at Carver Middle School, grades 6-8, sued the Lake County School Board after the district denied their club application. Carver is known locally as a technology school and the first school for black youth in 1876.
The district court dismissed the lawsuit on ripeness and mootness grounds, but the appellate court reversed. In remanding the case, the appeals court stopped short of calling Caver a high school, but construed the state's education code to give the middle school the same status as a high school under the federal Equal Access Act.
Under the act, if a public school "provides secondary education as determined by State law," the school must give extracurricular clubs equal access to school resources. Florida must provide "at least one high school level mathematics course for which students may earn high school credit."
"Carver Middle School provides courses through which students can obtain high school credit," the court said. "The Equal Access Act applies to Carver Middle School."
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