A school district in Florida is now allowing a pro-life student club to launch after a high school principal was accused banning the group because it was seen as too “controversial.” The school district has denied that claim.
The conservative nonprofit legal group Alliance Defending Freedom sent a demand letter on Nov. 7 to administrators at the Collier County Public School Board and the assistant principal at Gulf Coast High School on behalf of student Gabrielle Gabbard.
Gabbard says she was rebuffed by the school’s Assistant Principal, Catherine Crawford-Brown, when she expressed interest in starting a club called Sharks 4 Life. The club was to be a chapter of the national organization Students for Life, which has over 1,200 chapters nationwide advocating against abortion.
According to the demand letter, Gabbard and Sharks 4 Life missed out on over two months of meetings and events that included a recruitment drive in early September because of the denial.
The letter states that Gabbard submitted the required information to launch the club to Crawford-Brown by Aug. 8. She described the club as “a pro-life group whose mission is to educate students and bring awareness through community service projects and other events.”
The letter additionally claims that Gabbard had arranged for two faculty advisors for the club: Ms. Lisa Townsend (official advisor) and Ms. Linda Cassidy (unofficial adviseor).
After submitting a flyer for Sharks 4 Life to be included in the school’s club recruitment drive on Aug. 27, the letter states that Cassidy and Gabbard met with Crawford-Brown on Aug. 30. According to the letter, Crawford-Brown said the school district would not approve the club because it was too “political” and “controversial.”
Then on Sept. 4, Crawford-Brown met with Gabbard and the club’s vice president, Ava Dobrydney, and staff member Cassidy.
In that meeting, Crawford-Brown allegedly said that the school’s approval of the pro-life group would be seen as an approval of the group’s political views. She is also accused of saying that she did not want either a pro-life or pro-choice group at the school.
According to the demand letter, the students say that Crawford-Brown encouraged them to start a “grassroots” club that would meet outside of the school instead.
“At that meeting, Ms. Crawford-Brown also made pointed remarks numerous times that if Ms. Cassidy continued to try and be a faculty advisor, she could lose her job,” the demand letter explains. “Ms. Crawford-Brown made these remarks even though she knew that the club needed a faculty advisor to be approved. Because of these remarks, Ms. Cassidy stated that day that she did not want to be an advisor for Sharks 4 Life.”
A spokesperson for Collier County Public Schools told Breitbart that the accusation that school administrators refused to allow the opening of Sharks 4 Life is “simply wrong.”
“The claim that the club is not recognized by GCHS is wrong,” the spokesperson said. “Gulf Coast High School has been and is ready to open the club.”
The spokesperson added that the principal would soon be reaching out to the students to find a sponsoring faculty member.
The district spokesperson also claimed that Crawford-Brown never met with two faculty advisors about opening of the club.
“She met with a member of the noninstructional staff who supported the club and two students,” the spokesperson said. “At no time did the assistant principal threaten anyone with job loss. The faculty member who originally agreed to serve as a faculty advisor to the club informed the principal on Sept. 4 that she had decided not to do so. The assistant principal has never spoken with this faculty member about this matter."
However, ADF attorney Michael Ross asserted in speaking with Fox News that the school changed its stance and only began cooperating after it was threatened with a lawsuit by the ADF demand letter.
“ADF’s demand letter clearly recounts Gulf Coast High School’s repeated refusal to recognize Sharks 4 Life for over three months," Ross stressed. "The facts leave no doubt that they were ill-treated and ignored because of their viewpoint. The only apparent attempt from GCHS to recognize Sharks 4 Life comes after a threat of legal action. Students shouldn’t have to threaten legal action to have their voice heard.“
Gulf Coast High School sponsors 78 student clubs, including a Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a Gay-Straight Alliance Club and even a Democrat-leaning club called Collier Students for Change.
“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said in a statement. “But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition. Officials in Collier County need to do the right thing and do it quickly.”