In a 5-4 vote Feb. 27, the Chambersburg School Board rejected a student application to form a GSA at Chambersburg Area High School, in Franklin County, about 50 miles southwest of Harrisburg.
LGBT-identified students had been meeting in an unofficial format for two years prior to the vote and had received support from a number of faculty members, who were willing to serve as advisors for the club.
Students first presented a formal application to form the GSA in January, but the decision was ultimately delayed until the board’s meeting last week.
The board did not respond to a request for comment by PGN as of presstime.
Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin said the organization has reached out to the school district superintendent and offered to hold a conversation with him about the need for a GSA at the school. But the organization may also seek legal action, Martin said.
“I offered to talk with the school board as well. Next resort, we are working with the American Civil Liberties Union on a possible lawsuit,” he said. “We would certainly like to get them to reverse their decision within the next two months or as soon as possible. We will be notifying them on legal actions.”
Martin said the organization could cite The Equal Access Act of 1984, which prohibits institutions of public education from denying equal access or fair opportunity to students who seek to conduct a meeting.
Two Central Pennsylvania schools voted down GSAs in 2012, but both later reversed their decisions.
Martin said the Chambersburg situation could be a teaching moment for the area.
“It can be a more conservative part of the state, but hopefully more work will be done to move forward,” he said. “In the end, people always come around to understand that this is what they have to do under the law.”
Equality PA gave the school until March 27 to reach a resolution before it takes legal action.
“I feel pretty confident,” Martin said about the possibility of an agreement. “I think once the school board weighs what it is saying and what they are facing and there is real legal consequences to what they are doing, they will realize that students having the ability to create a GSA is not worth the fight they will have.”