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Ruling gives equal access to high school gay rights group

By Amy Forliti

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Osseo school district must give a student-run gay rights group at Maple Grove Senior High the same privileges it offers other extracurricular clubs, such as the use of school rooms for meetings, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen issued a permanent injunction that puts the group Straights and Gays for Equality, also known as SAGE, on equal footing as other groups.

Two students, their parents and SAGE sued Osseo Area Schools in 2005, claiming the Twins Cities suburban district violated the federal Equal Access Act, which holds that public schools must extend the same privileges to all student-organized, non-curricular clubs.

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SAGE contended that groups including synchronized swimming, cheerleading and the Black Achievers were allowed to publicize meetings over the school’s public address system and have access to school facilities for meetings, but members of SAGE were consistently denied such requests.

The school district had argued that these groups were given such access because they were labeled as "curricular" — meaning their activities related to the school’s curriculum. For example, the school argued, students received academic credit for participating in physical activity like synchronized swimming while the subject of Black Achievers related to classes that promote leadership and positive relationship building.

Ericksen disagreed, saying cheerleading, Black Achievers and other groups were not directly related to any class.

"The District’s argument is circular — the District deems certain student groups curricular because it sanctions them, but the District decides which groups to sanction," the judge wrote in a footnote. "This type of decision-making is exactly what the Equal Access Act is meant to prohibit."

The school district had classified SAGE as a noncurricular group. Such groups could put up posters only on a community bulletin board and outside their meeting places and were prohibited from using other forms of school communication, according to the 11-page ruling.

Ericksen ordered the school to treat SAGE like any other "curricular" student group.

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