School board rules out pagan club

Saturday, June 5, 2004

CRESTVIEW, Fla. — The Okaloosa County School Board passed a rule to prevent a 12-year-old girl from forming a pagan club at her school.

The board passed a requirement that clubs have at least five members and a faculty sponsor after the girl's mother, Stephney Aigret, had approached officials at Max Bruner Jr. Middle School in Fort Walton Beach.

“She doesn't have enough people to start her club,” Aigret told the board during an hourlong debate on May 31, as reported by the Northwest Florida Daily News. “So this, in my opinion, is just one way the government can shut down undesirable clubs.”

American Civil Liberties Union members also argued the rule would violate the girl's rights and federal laws on equal access.

“We can beat this to death, but I personally think the policy is more than adequate to protect students' rights,” board member Rodney Walker said.

The girl had asked about forming a club based on her pagan beliefs because the school had Christian clubs, her mother said. Bruner officials, however, told her she would have to gather 200 signatures to form such a club.

When the Aigrets complained to district officials, school Superintendent Don Gaetz proposed the districtwide policy with a five-student minimum. The Aigrets and ACLU say any numerical limit violates federal law.

School district lawyer Jeff McInnis said the law did not bar schools from setting rules regarding meetings on school property and the formation of groups or clubs.

The girl's father, Marcel Aigret, said the family may pursue the issue further.

Two years ago, the board also rebuffed the Aigrets' request to remove the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms. They contended the phrase “under God” violates the separation of church and state doctrine of the First Amendment.