PHILADELPHIA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Equality Pennsylvania sent a letter today to the Chambersburg Area School District (CASD) on behalf of a group of Chambersburg Area Senior High School students whose request to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club was denied by the school board last month. According to the letter, the school board's decision to deny the group status as an official club is a violation of federal law. The letter gives the school district until March 15, 2013, to reverse its decision or face legal action.

GSA clubs are student-led and student-organized school clubs that aim to create a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Allowing the creation of the Gay-Straight Alliance club is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right thing to do for the district's students," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Discrimination and harassment can have a devastating impact on gay youth, and GSAs provide an important and safe forum for students who are concerned about these issues."

The students initially proposed the GSA at the January 2013 school board meeting. They were told to make revisions to their bylaws and to come back again. At its February 27, 2013, meeting, the school board voted 5-4 to deny the club official club status. Without official approval, the GSA may not use the school's morning announcement system or put up flyers advertising its events, may not hold events or fundraisers, and may not participate as a group in Color Day events.

The school district has previously granted official approval to a number of non-curricular student groups at the Chambersburg High Senior School, including the Bible Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Ping Pong Club.

"Equality Pennsylvania strongly recommends that the Chambersburg Area School Board reconsider their decision on a Gay-Straight Alliance at Chambersburg Senior High School," said Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director Ted Martin. "Given the lack of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law in Pennsylvania, local school districts are left on their own to ensure safe environments for LGBT students to learn and to be themselves. Equality Pennsylvania is hopeful that the members of the Chambersburg Area School Board will do the right thing and allow students to organize a GSA in their district."

According to the letter, CASD is in violation of the federal Equal Access Act, which requires public schools to treat all noncurricular student clubs equally. Federal courts have consistently upheld the Equal Access Act's protection for students wishing to form GSAs.

"Schools need to understand that they cannot pick and choose which clubs to allow," said Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The same law that ensures the right of GSAs to exist also protects the existence of a variety of clubs, from scrapbooking to religious clubs."