Five Edina High School students and their parents are suing the school and district, charging that the school restricted student free-speech rights and then wrongfully terminated a club over its criticism of a protest at the school.
Last month, some students sat in protest during the playing of taps and the national anthem in a Veterans Day assembly, the lawsuit says. Members of the Young Conservatives Club were outraged and took to Twitter to express that, according to a statement by the students who filed suit.
Members of the club also sent private chat messages among themselves that contained disparaging remarks about other students, including Somali-Americans. Those were made public in a YouTube video from an Edina High “anti-fascist” group, which demanded an apology. Afterward, school leaders revoked the Young Conservatives Club’s status as a school-sponsored organization, said attorney Erick Kaardal, who’s representing the students: Nick Spades, Elizabeth Ebner, Jazmine Edmond, Tatum Buyse and Ana Doval.
The students continue to plan activities, but their numbers have dwindled since termination. The group wants to be recognized as school-sponsored, he said, but doesn’t want to back the school’s mission.
Filed Thursday in Minnesota federal district court, the suit is the latest political tumult for the 8,500-student Edina district. In October, an article by the Center of the American Experiment claimed left-wing political “indoctrination” in the schools endangers the district’s history of top-tier academics.
School policy mandates that students respect others who protest, but that violates the Flag Code, according to the lawsuit. Ending the Young Conservatives Club because students spoke out against policies contradicts the free speech guarantee in the First Amendment, the students and Kaardal said.
In a statement, Kaardal said though students can “disrespect military veterans and the United States flag,” the school doesn’t let students call out “the disrespectful behavior” of protesters.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare unconstitutional the policy saying that clubs have to meet the school’s mission. It also seeks the reinstatement of the Young Conservatives Club. Along with the school and district, the students are suing Principal Andy Beaton and Superintendent John Schultz.
Edina Public Schools said in an e-mail that it can’t comment on litigated topics, but that the district respects student free-speech rights. District officials would not say whether the school cut its ties with the Young Conservatives Club.
Beaton told Edina High’s student newspaper Zephyrus last month that the conservative club could “post something and say, we totally disagree with students sitting during [the assembly], but when the statements become disrespectful, that’s when we have to step in.”
Beena Raghavendran • 612-673-4569