The ACLU of Virginia has requested records under Virginia's open government law pertaining to student assembly requests at Virginia Beach high schools after the school division cancelled a planned student assembly at Cox High School. The assembly, an educational event organized by the Gay Straight Alliance after an incident of anti-gay bullying at Cox High School, was cancelled apparently after an incoming school board member who has not yet taken office expressed concerns about the event to the division's administration.
Questions were raised about whether the assembly should be allowed during regular school hours even though the Division Policy 5-40.B on student assemblies says explicitly that “some time both within and without regular school hours shall be made available for student assemblies to deal with relevant ideas and topics.”
“We want to look at the School Division’s practices under the assemblies policy to see whether there is any indication that this event was treated differently because of either its sponsorship or content,” explained ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “Students do not leave their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door, and content-based distinctions by the school division in the regulation of student speech would raise significant legal concerns."
The ACLU-VA's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent to Dr. Aaron C. Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, asks for "access to and/or copies of records related to requests to principals for outside speakers at school assemblies pursuant to Policy 6-10 or any student assemblies planned during regular school hours pursuant to Policy 5-40.B. at each of the division’s 12 high schools during the period from Sept. 1, 2014, through the present. Included within this request are all records related to the instructional/educational anti-bullying student assembly planned by the Gay Straight Alliance at Cox High School that was scheduled during school hours on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 and cancelled on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016."
In addition, the ACLU-VA's letter requests "access to and/or copies of requests for approval of outside speakers or assemblies, any supporting documentation, responses from school or division staff, and records of communication between school division staff and members of the School Board regarding any such request."
Under state law, governing bodies must respond to FOIA requests in writing within five business days.