A student at a Florida high school has alleged that an assistant principal rejected her decision to start a pro-life student group on campus.
Gabrielle Gabbard, a senior at Gulf Coast High School, attempted to start an independent group called “Sharks 4 Life” affiliated with the national pro-life organization Students for Life of America, Fox News reported.
Gabbard said she applied to start the group in August and was rebuffed by Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown, who said that the club would be too “too political and too controversial.”
The student is now being represented by Students for Life of America and Alliance Defending Freedom, and it appears that she is once again on track to found the club.
ADF’s Michael Ross sent a letter to the school on Thursday demanding it “immediately grant Sharks 4 Life the same access privileges and benefits to which other Gulf Coast High School student clubs are entitled.”
Ross claimed that Crawford-Brown told Linda Cassidy, a prospective unofficial faculty adviser for the club, that if she continued to try to become an adviser, she could lose her job.
“You better watch it, Linda,” Crawford-Brown allegedly said.
Cassidy said she did not want to become an adviser in light of Crawford-Brown’s comment. Another prospective adviser, Lisa Townsend, withdrew out of fear of losing her job.
Ross argued that Crawford-Brown’s “failure to recognize Sharks 4 Life is blatantly illegal under the Equal Access Act and First Amendment.”
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He cited the 1990 Supreme Court case Board of Education v. Mergens, in which the court ruled that “if a public secondary school allows only one ‘noncurriculum related student group’ to meet, the [Equal Access] Act’s obligations are triggered and the school may not deny other clubs, on the basis of the content of their speech, equal access to meet on school premises during noninstructional time.”
Ross went on to ask the school to inform him and Gabbard that it has “granted her Sharks 4 Life group official recognition and that it will receive the same rights, benefits, and privileges as other non-curricular student clubs at Gulf Coast High School.”
He also instructed the school to assure Cassidy and Townsend that it would take no action against them for their involvement with Sharks 4 Life.
“If you fail to grant these requests, we will have no option but to advise our client of other avenues for vindicating her rights,” he concluded.
Collier County Public Schools responded to Ross’ letter by claiming that Gulf Coast High School supported the club’s inception.
“Gulf Coast High School has been and is ready to open the club,” Chad Oliver, the district’s executive director of communications and community engagement, told WINK-TV on Thursday.
“The Principal will be reaching out to students interested in forming the ‘Sharks 4 Life Club’ on Monday and finding a sponsoring faculty member.”
Oliver also told Fox that “the assistant principal never met with two faculty advisors about the opening of the club.”
“She met with a member of the non-instructional staff who supported the club and two students. At no time did the assistant principal threaten anyone with job loss,” he said.
Ross claimed that the school decided to allow Sharks 4 Life only after receiving his letter.
“The only apparent attempt from GCHS to recognize Sharks 4 Life comes after a threat of legal action,” he said.
“Students shouldn’t have to threaten legal action to have their voice heard.”
When reached by The Western Journal for comment, Oliver contested Ross’ version of events.
“Unfortunately, the Alliance Defending Freedom has spread a story which is inaccurate,” he wrote in an email. “The claim that Gulf Coast High School (‘GCHS’) administrators ever refused to allow the opening of the Sharks 4 Life Club is simply wrong.”
“The claim that the club is not recognized by GCHS is wrong. The school has been ready to open the club but needs to have a faculty advisor/sponsor before it can open,” he wrote.
“What is also true, is that the principal is reaching out to students and parents to help form the club and find a faculty advisor for it. The latest update is they have not found a faculty sponsor to date.”
Ross told The Western Journal in an email that “the Gulf Coast High School administration has met with Ms. Gabbard and are working towards a resolution but nothing final has yet been agreed upon.”
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Source: Politico Usa News