The Lake County School District and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Mount Dora High School have reached an agreement that would give the FCA the same rights as other non-curricular clubs in the district.
The School Board voted unanimously Monday to support the agreement, which still must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Terrell Hodges.
The Liberty Counsel, an Orlando organization that promotes religious freedom, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in April on behalf of the FCA.
The lawsuit claims the FCA has been refused equal access to school facilities given to other student clubs, such as posting announcements in the hallways and on the school’s marquee, flyers in and outside of classrooms where clubs meet, and making announcements over the school’s public address system, club web page or on the district’s website.
FCA students also want to wear a colored cord at graduation to signify club membership, have a club section in the school yearbook and receive a stipend for the club’s faculty advisor.
With the exception of a stipend for the club’s faculty advisor, the agreement, if approved by the court, would give the FCA equal access to school facilities given to other non-curricular student clubs.
“We are obviously very excited to restore the constitutional rights of the FCA in Lake County,” said Horatio Mihet, senior litigation counsel for the Liberty Counsel. “It is a shame that it took this long because we made very extensive and numerous efforts to resolve this issue without litigation.”
According to the Liberty Counsel suit, clubs at Mount Dora High are classified as curricular, co-curricular or non-curricular. Art and drama clubs are considered curricular, while the Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and other similar clubs are co-curricular. The FCA and Key Club have been designated non-curricular clubs with little or no rights.
The agreement requires the school district to amend its club policy to no longer have
designated co-curricular clubs, Mihet said.
“All of the co-curricular clubs will be merged into non-curricular,” he said. “They have to amend the policy to bring it into compliance with the Constitution and the law.”
As a result, Mihet said the FCA will have the same rights as the Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and other similar clubs.
Mihet said the parties are still in litigation regarding the stipend for the club’s faculty advisor, Gerald Buell.
According to the suit, other club faculty advisors receive stipends of at least $500 a year.
“We remain confident in our belief the Constitution and Equal Access Act do not allow the school board to treat the FCA club than other similarly stated clubs,” Mihet said. “That includes all benefits, not just the benefits the school wants to provide out of the goodness of its heart.”
The agreement referred to as a Consent Decree “also establishes that the district violated the constitutional and statutory rights of FCA and its members by denying them” the benefits other non-curricular clubs are offered, according to a Liberty Counsel press release.
As a result, the Consent Decree requires the “district to pay $315 in damages for these violations, as well as substantial attorney’s fees required to correct its conduct,” the press release states.
Chris Patton, spokesman for the district, said he had no comment as the parties were still in litigation.