Following a closed discussion March 1, the Edina School Board voted unanimously to settle a lawsuit that alleged the district violated the First Amendment rights of a group of conservative students.
The district is not paying monetary damages to the plaintiffs, who are members of the Edina High School Young Conservatives Club, and is not admitting wrong-doing, but the board has agreed to amend district policy regarding student rights. The agreement will not, however, change actual practices in the schools, according to a district statement announcing the settlement.
The five plaintiffs' parents signed the settlement agreement Feb. 16 on behalf of their children.
The club members filed the lawsuit in December, alleging their free speech rights had been violated during fallout from a Veterans Day protest. On that day last November, a group of students remained seated during a school assembly as “Taps” and the National Anthem was played.
The protest elicited comments in a Young Conservatives Club online chat group that were soon made public and called out as racist. The lawsuit alleged that Edina High School Principal Andy Beaton's response was to disband the club, known as YCC.
In its written statement, the district refutes this and other claims made in the lawsuit.
The district notes YCC wasn't an official school club for the 2017-18 school year, and therefore Beaton could not have forced the group to disband. YCC has been approved as an official club every year it has applied for that status, according to the district's statement.
However, the statement adds that the club applied for – and was granted – official status after the lawsuit was filed, and after the district had repeatedly asked the group to apply throughout the fall.
The social media dispute following the Veterans Day protest escalated with the online posting of a video from a group claiming to be “Edina Antifa.” Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask – a visage popularized by the movie “V for Vendetta” and employed in protest movements of the past decade – the figure demanded YCC remove its racist members and apologize for fostering racism in its online chat group.
The mysterious video was interpreted by some as disturbing and threatening. Those who posted the video have not been found, and there is no evidence the creator is from Edina High School, the district notes.
The lawsuit also alleged that Edina students have been unconstitutionally forced to respect protesters, but the district cites state law as mandating such a policy. The law states that anyone who does not want to participate in Pledge of Allegiance may elect to do so and that students must respect their right to make that choice.
Every classroom in Edina has an American Flag, the district stressed in response a YCC complaint that noted the contrary. The flags were removed along with other decor due to construction at the high school, and had not been replaced in all classrooms by the beginning of the current school year due to the timing of the renovations, according to the district.
The district's statement mentions it is settling the lawsuit out of “the spirit of cooperation” and to avoid the cost of litigation.
The agreement includes the following amendment to district policy: “The school district will respect its students' rights to engage in free speech and association within the aforementioned parameters,” which prohibit “activities contrary to the best interest of the school or that reflect negatively on the reputation of a school.”
Agreeing to amend its Edina Senior High School Club Guidelines and Responsibilities as well, the school board will add the following clause to the document regarding a club losing its status: “Revocation may not be based solely upon the exercise of free speech or free association rights of club members unless that conduct interferes with the school's basic educational mission.”