What is a “noncurriculum-related student group” under the Equal Access Act?

In the 1990 Supreme Court case of Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens, the Court interpreted a “noncurriculum related student group” to mean “any student group [or club] that does not directly relate to the body of courses offered by the school.”

According to the Court, a student group directly relates to a school’s curriculum only if (1) the subject matter of the group is actually taught, or will soon be taught, in a regularly offered course; (2) the subject matter of the group concerns the body of courses as a whole; or (3) participation in the group is required for a particular course or results in academic credit.

As examples, the Court identified three groups that were noncurriculum-related at the Westside schools: (1) a scuba club, (2) a chess club, and (3) a service club. The Court found these groups to be noncurriculum-related because they did not meet the criteria set forth above. Conversely, the French club was found to be curriculum-related since the school regularly offered French classes.

Subject to review by the courts, local school authorities must determine whether a student group is curriculum related or not. Schools may not, however, substitute their own definition of “noncurriculum related” for the definition provided by the Court.

If the school violates the EAA, an aggrieved person may bring suit in U.S. district court to compel the school to observe the law. Although violations of equal access will not result in the loss of federal funds, the school could be liable for damages and the attorney’s fees of a student group that successfully challenges a denial to meet under the act.

Category: Freedom of Religion

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