The Equal Access Act: “Not the Access for All Students Except Gay Students Act”: Federal Judicial Decisions and Their Implications for School Systemsâ Policies and Practices Regarding Student Requests to Establish Gay Straight Alliance Clubs in Public Schools

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Virginia Tech


To ensure an educational opportunity for every child that passes through America's schoolhouse doors, it is imperative that non-heterosexual students' educational needs are not ignored in the educational milieu (Zirkel, 2006). In the last decade or so, the desire of non-heterosexual students to organize Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs on high school campuses have been met with angst by school leaders (Duncan & Rogers, 2008). Despite the passage of the Equal Access Act (EAA) in 1984, school leaders have often denied non-heterosexual students the right to establish GSA clubs on campus, consequently resulting in these students utilizing the judicial system as the venue to assert their rights under the law (Essex, 2005). As it is imperative that educational leaders understand the legal rights of all students under their care, and make informed decisions in order to avoid costly litigation, this research focused on analyzing the Equal Access Act of 1984, federal case law, legal commentary, and historical documents, in order to track the developments of non-heterosexual students' ability to utilize the EAA to establish GSA clubs in the public schools in the United States. The study employed a traditional legal research methodology as described by Alder (1993) and Russo (1993), relying on electronic data bases and traditional legal finding tools to carry out the research. From the resulting legislation, case law, scholarly commentary, and other relevant documents reviewed and analyzed, an accurate historical perspective on the EAA as it relates to the formation of GSA clubs was constructed. In addition, the significant themes that arose from the findings were synthesized in order to offer guidance to educational leaders and policymakers when facing requests from students to establish GSA clubs on school property. Recommendations for school leaders when considering such requests from students to form GSA clubs under the EAA are provided.



Gay-Straight Alliances, educational policy, school law, Equal Access Act of 1984, non-heterosexual students (LGBT)