The Equal Access Act
This federal law provides important rights to students in most public high schools regarding their ability to organize student-led groups or clubs and to have access to school facilities and resources.
To view the Equal Access Act, click here.
Three links to articles that provide a good overview of the Act:
The Act applies to secondary schools (high schools) that receive federal funds and have a "limited open forum", which means that there are one or more non-curriculum related clubs--the Act therefore applies to most public high schools. Schools may opt out of the Act by not allowing any non-curriculum clubs (read how one Kentucky Board of Education decided to eliminate an unwanted Gay-Straight Alliance club in its high school).
Qualifying schools must allow new clubs to be organized as long as they meet the following criteria:
Attendance must be voluntary.
The group must be student-initiated, not sponsored by the school, by teachers or other school employees or the government. However, a teacher or other school employee can be assigned to the group for "custodial purposes".
The group may not be disruptive, i.e. it can not "materially and substantially interfere" with educational activities within the school.
Persons from the community may not "direct, conduct, control or regularly attend activities of the group".
The Act requires that all of a school's non-curriculum clubs be treated equally:
Equal access to meeting spaces, the PA system, school newspapers, bulletin boards, copy machines, etc.
School officials may monitor meetings.
School officials can require all clubs to follow a set of rules.
The school may limit meeting times and locations, but must apply these restrictions equally to all groups.
The school may prohibit people from the community from attending student club meetings, but this restriction must be applied equally to all groups.
There are few limits to the types of clubs that can be organized by motivated students--examples include Christian clubs/prayer groups (read this, this and this), atheist clubs (read this), Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (read this and this) , Amnesty International, ACLU (read this) , or groups dealing with types of music--anything goes, as long as it does not "materially and substantially interfere" with educational activities within the school.
Examples of recent litigation against school districts allegedly in violation of the Equal Access Act can be found here. It should come as no surprise that both of the lawsuits mentioned in the article have since been settled in favor of the students' right to form clubs and be treated equally as guaranteed by law.
Last updated July 2003