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ACLU sues mountain school

Claims references to gender and sexuality should not have been eliminated from yearbook

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued a local mountain high school and its district for allegedly violating the free speech of two students.

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed its lawsuit Wednesday against Chawanakee Unified School District and Minarets High School in Madera County Superior Court.

The district and school declined to comment on the case.

According to the ACLU, students Steven Madrid and Mikayla Garaffa selected quotes for their yearbook senior pages that were rejected as “politically divisive.” The ACLU national office then sent a letter unsuccessfully appealing the decision.

Madrid, president of his school’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network club, had quoted pop singer Pink supporting same-sex marriage. Meanwhile Garaffa had commented that the young adult fantasy series Harry Potter had taught her “no one deserves to live in a closet. What they don’t know can’t hurt them.”

The ACLU claims the district and school “clearly violated a range of well-established free speech protections, non-discrimination law, and the (state’s) FAIR Education Act,” which prohibits “discriminatory bias” due to “sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

“It is vital that LGBTQ+ students be able to live authentically and be seen for who they are at school,” said Ginna Brelsford, co-executive director of Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network. “GSA Network advocated for the FAIR Education Act in 2011 to ensure that the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history are integrated into school curricula.”

In the past, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized limits to free speech rights for public school students.

In the 1988 Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier case, a school’s principal had rejected a school newspaper article on student pregnancy on the basis of its inappropriateness for younger students and the identification of those interviewed. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the school district.

In that case, the court held that First Amendment right were not violated because public school student rights were not automatically as extensive as that of adults, the school’s publication couldn’t be considered a forum for public expression, the standard for punishing student expression is not the same as the standard for deciding when a school may refuse to lend its name and resources to spreading student expression, and the principal’s action was reasonable under the circumstances.

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