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Judge orders Pendleton Heights HS to let Gay-Straight Alliance advertise events

PENDLETON, Ind. (WISH) — A federal court judge ruled Wednesday that Pendleton Heights High School must allow Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance to use school resources to advertise events as other student groups do.

Judge James R. Sweeney II of the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis issued a preliminary injunction against the school and the South Madison Community School Corp. He says in the ruling that the high school has allowed at least one other “non-curriculum” club to use the advertising resources and must grant equal access to other clubs.

Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance filed a federal lawsuit in September after being told it’s “unofficial.” The designation had meant the student club could not publicize its existence on bulletin boards or on the high school’s radio station, or raise funds on school property as “official” student groups can.

Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance, however, in September received permission to resume meetings with a faculty sponsor after school hours at Pendleton Heights High School.

The lawsuit filed Sept. 22 in federal court in Indianapolis is against the South Madison Community School Corp. and Connie Rickert, the high school principal. South Madison Superintendent Mark Hall did not immediately reply to an email from News 8 after the ruling. The school district suspended classes starting Monday for its Quarter 2 break, which ends Jan. 3.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of the student group at the Madison County school. A news release in September from the ACLU of Indiana said the group “provides gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary and allied students to meet and provide social, emotional, and educational support to one another.”

The lawsuit argues the principal’s actions create hurdles that other student groups don’t face.

“The differential treatment aimed at Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance by administrators is unwarranted and these students must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated,” said Kit Malone, advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Indiana, in the release.

The lawsuit asks the court to show that the district violated federal law and free-speech rights in the U.S. Constitution, and to give the Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance the same privileges as any other student groups.

Pendleton Heights High School, which has about 1,400 students, is about 14 miles northeast of Indianapolis.


“The student led Gay Straight Alliance group at Pendleton Heights High School must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated.

“While this isn’t the first time the ACLU of Indiana has had to take on a public school for treating a GSA group differently than other student led organizations, we hope that public schools throughout the state will take notice and forgo future challenges by providing equal treatment to all student groups.

“The ACLU of Indiana will continue to work to ensure that all schools in our state provide GSA groups and other student led groups with the equal rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution.”

The ACLU of Indiana