The students who sued the Osseo school district over its treatment of their gay rights group spoke at a forum attended by more than 50 students and community members.
Natalie Durivage and Heather Woodson - who no longer attend Maple Grove High School - said they called the meeting at the school on Wednesday to dispel rumors about the ongoing legal wrangling, including a rumor that the lawsuit has prompted a moratorium against new student groups.
District 279 spokesman Pat Brink said there's no such moratorium.
Durivage and Woodson sued the district in 2005 after officials denied Straights and Gays for Equality, or SAGE, status as a curricular organization, which would have allowed them to meet during school hours, put up posters and use the public address system. Synchronized swimming and cheerleading have curricular status.
U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen sided with the students in April 2006, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the district's appeal in December 2006. Last September, Ericksen issued a permanent injunction requiring the district to give SAGE equal access. The district is appealing that ruling.
A SAGE poster hanging outside the school's Forum Room testified to the new access. Decorated with rainbows and dots, it says, "Questions about S.A.G.E.?" A sign showing a red circle and slash declares, "Degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks not welcome here."
SAGE's mission is to fight harassment against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students.
"We spent a long time trying not to have a lawsuit," Durivage said. "We didn't really want to sue the school. We were trying to work it out with them and have them hear our issues. It didn't work out."
The lawsuit has cost the financially troubled district hundreds of thousands of dollars. Osseo Area Schools outlined plans to close two elementary schools and lay off 200 staff last week.
Brink said the dispute is about the school's right to determine which student groups are related to the school curriculum.
"We need to control who can talk to students and how they can talk to them, because we could have groups like the KKK come in then, and if we no longer have any right to decide if that is an appropriate curricular or not," Brink said. "That is where we run into trouble."
In the meantime, attendance at SAGE meetings has grown from two or three students to as many as 38 at a recent meeting - many of them straight. Some students say the group has raised awareness about homophobic comments and made the school's culture more accepting of gay students.