School district says pro-life club authorized at Collier County high school

Reporter: Taylor Smith Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Seal of Gulf Coast High School in Collier County. (Credit: WINK News)
Seal of Gulf Coast High School in Collier County. (Credit: WINK News)

A student at a high school in Collier County claims Collier County Public School and an assistant principal blocked a pro-life club from forming on the high school’s campus. And a letter from the student’s legal counsel claims the assistant principal intimidated the club’s advisers from maintaining leadership roles. Through all the controversy, Collier County Public Schools confirms the club will be formed and welcomed at the high school.

Student Gabrielle Gabbard wanted to start a pro life club called “Sharks 4 Life” at Gulf Coast High School in Collier County to begin the 2019-20 school year. She followed all the necessary steps to start the school group and had two faculty members willing and ready to advise the club.

“We believe the school should be encouraging free speech and political expression,” said Michael Ross, Gabbard’s legal counsel. “Gabby just wants to operate her club and express her pro-life message on the high school campus.”
But Gabbard claims she was told the club was too “political” to be hosted at school. A letter shared with us by Gabbard’s lawyer details threats the assistant principal made to supportive faculty members that their jobs could be in jeopardy if they continued to show support for “Sharks 4 Life.” The two school employees feared the threats enough to say they would no longer back the club.

“The assistant principal told them multiple times that their contract could be at risk,” Ross said. “And you could lose your job if you do this and they said you need to watch yourself.”

MORE: Alliance Defending Freedom Letter to Collier County Public Schools

Amid the controversy, Chad Oliver, the executive director of communications & community engagement with the school district, shared a response with us directly Thursday and made it clear the club was supported by the high school and the school district.

“Gulf Coast High School has been and is ready to open the club,” Oliver sent in an email. “The Principal will be reaching out to students interested in forming the “Sharks 4 Life Club” on Monday and finding a sponsoring faculty member.”

“I believe we are at a stage in life where it’s good for us to talk about things like this,” student Tayla Ware said. “And the sooner we are able to be mature about things like this the better.”

“I think students should have the voice of what they want to say,” student Cameron Hunt said.

Some parents share their opinion that it’s not surprising this venture at the school caused controversy.

“This time of age they can see so many things, and it’s gonna be an influence for them,” parent Frank Navarro said.

Prior to us receiving the statement from the school district, Gabbard’s legal counsel had given the school district a Nov. 14 deadline to recognize the club to ensure this remains true. And Gabbard said it took two months until Thursday for the school to agree to host the club on campus.

The school district said the principal will reach out to students interested in forming the club and will find an adviser who wants to support it. This comes after Gabbard’s legal counsel submitted a letter to the school and the district that said prohibiting the club’s formation is an infringement on students’ First Amendment rights.

We asked to speak with Gabbard, but she told us she couldn’t. We also knocked on a classroom door of a teacher at the school, but we did not receive an answer.

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