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Gay Club Backed by Law


† † † † † High school students have a constitutional right to free speech, even when it comes to sensitive issues such as homosexuality.
† † † † † That was the conclusion reached this month by both the town's legal counsel and a state Department of education lawyer. The two were asked whether a new Gay-Straight Student Alliance at the high school has a right to exist, and more specifically whether the can group can be allowed to survey the student body on their opinions of gays and lesbians.
† † † † † The alliance was formed last fall, but a group of parents challenged its existence in November through a letter to Superintendent of Schools George I. Blaisdell.
† † † † † The parents felt the existence of the group wrongly lends acceptance to homosexuality, which they view as a lifestyle contrary to God.
† † † † † They asked that the district set a policy that would prohibit the teens from distributing written materials or conducting workshops, seminars, or surveys.
† † † † † Considering its topic, the parents also felt that at minimum they have a right to be notified about the planned survey.
† † † † † The parents didnít get what they were looking for.
† † † † † Mr. Blaisdell and High School Principal Edward C. Martin both refused to treat the club any differently than they treat any other clubs, and said that a state parental notification law does not apply because the group and its survey are completely voluntary and have nothing to do with school curriculum.
† † † † † The two legal opinions, solicited by Mr. Blaisdell, back up the districts position in part by citing a 1996 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision: "Pyle v. South Hadley School Committee."
† † † † † The case concerned a student who wore to school T-shirts bearing slogans deemed by the district as "lewd, vulgar, or offensive."
† † † † † The South Hadley school Committee wanted to prevent the student from wearing the shirts, but the court held that the shirts were a from of speech that could not be regulated because there was no evidence that they caused any disruption.
† † † † † "It is likely that a court would rule that a high school student organizationís peaceful distribution of written materials, including voluntary surveys or questionnaires, is protected under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution," wrote Department of education general Counsel Rhoda E. Schneider.
† † † † † Joel B. Bard, a lawyer with Kopelman and Paige P.C., offered a similar view:
† † † † † "Even if student speech is lewd, vulgar, or offensive, it may not be prohibited unless it causes disruption or disorder within the school," Mr. Bard wrote.