GRANTSBURG — The ACLU of Wisconsin has filed an administrative action on behalf of a sixth grade student who was discriminated against and suspended after they tried to start a Gay Straight Alliance at a Wisconsin school.
Wren Prahl, who uses they/them pronouns, is a sixth-grade student at the iForward internet charter school, a public online high school, middle school, and elementary school chartered through the award-winning Grantsburg School district. While attending the school, Wren wanted to start a Gay Straight Alliance. They began recruiting other students to participate in the group, however, the school stepped in, rejecting the request on multiple occasions, citing two school policies, which they do not uphold for other organizations.
The first policy cited was that they only allow curricular , or “academic” clubs at the school, however, iForward has clubs that demonstrate that they do not follow that rule, as they have a Dungeons & Dragons club, Outdoors Club, Travel Club, and a Pirates Cove Club, none of which appear to be “academic” or curricular .
The second cited policy was that they do not allow student-led clubs, however multiple teachers, including Maria Haas, an administrator at iForward who separated and accepted a position with a different school district and is supportive of Wren’s request to start a Gay Straight Alliance, says that teachers were definitely interested in leading the club.
Wren also served a suspension after they used Google hangouts and the school email system to recruit participants for the Gay Straight Alliance group.
“iForward’s effort to stop students from forming a GSA is misguided, discriminatory and unjustified. The administration prevented Wren from starting a GSA on the grounds that it did not have anything to do with curriculum, and that it was student-led, but those claims are belied by the fact that the school allows several clubs that are not at all related to academics, and that the GSA had the support of both teachers and administrators. We are concerned that iForward is actively attempting to derail initiatives aimed at fostering diversity and inclusion, something every school should be embracing,” said Elisabeth Lambert, staff attorney at the ACLU of Wisconsin. “It’s alarming that school officials are willing to take such extreme measures -- even going so far as to punish students with suspensions -- for simply wanting to start a club.”
Wren would ultimately like to be able to start the club at iForward, and ask that the suspension be expunged from their record.
“I think that establishing the club would help students meet a lot of other kids, provide a space for them to be themselves, and a chance to connect to other people who might be dealing with some of the same things they are,” said Wren Prahl. “The club could also really help other students learn about the different identities of their fellow students and teach people to be more accepting of others.”
“A lot of the students, including Wren, put a lot of effort into creating the club, and for the school to be so resistant to allowing students to create a community for themselves is really disheartening,” said Brianna Prahl, Wren’s mother. “It’s pretty clear by the students’ responses that there is a definite need for the club’s creation.”
“At iForward, we say that “students matter”, but we want ALL students to matter,” said Maria Haas, a former administrator at iForward.