District Statement on Settlement Agreement
Settlement Agreement in the case of the Edina Young Conservatives Club, et al., v. ISD 273, et al.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (March 1, 2018)
Edina Public Schools strongly believes in and stands behind the First Amendment rights of all students, regardless of the political views a student seeks to express. EPS is proud to foster an educational environment in which students are free to express their views, so long as such views do not disrupt the educational environment, constitute threats or harassment, or target others based on protected statuses such as race, religion, and sexual orientation.
EPS recently defended itself in Federal Court against a lawsuit brought by several students and the Young Conservatives Club (YCC). Thus far, the District has been unable to comment on this matter due to the pending litigation. However, as the case has now been voluntarily dismissed by the Plaintiffs, the District would like to set the record straight regarding several of the allegations made in the lawsuit.
YCC Club Status
Contrary to the YCC’s assertions, the District did not deny sponsorship for the YCC. In fact, pursuant to the District’s policies and school procedures, Edina High School (EHS) has approved sponsorship for the YCC every time it has been requested. The public was incorrectly told that the District did not allow the YCC to be an officially sponsored club. This is not true. All student groups are required to apply for sponsorship on an annual basis. The YCC itself admitted in the litigation paperwork that they chose not to apply for sponsorship for the 2017-18 school year. Since the YCC did not submit a request for sponsorship, the District could not have denied, nor did it deny, the YCC from being an officially sponsored club.
Throughout the fall, the District repeatedly encouraged the YCC to apply for and again become a District-sponsored student group at its high school. Since the filing of the lawsuit, the YCC has completed and submitted the application and sponsorship has been approved. As in previous years, the YCC is again a District-sponsored student group at EHS.
Furthermore, prior to the recent application for sponsorship, the District did not and could not have “disbanded” the YCC because it was not an officially approved student group. In the fall, Principal Beaton met with and talked to YCC members about the inappropriate and racist messages that had been posted on its group chat platform. YCC members noted that they did not want to be associated with such posts and chose to delete the messages. The District did not threaten discipline or otherwise force the YCC to delete those messages.
The District also did not support or otherwise approve any student protests or threats, as alleged in the litigation. The District supports the First Amendment rights of all of its students but maintains the authority and ability to discipline students who violate District policies.
Many of the unfounded allegations in the lawsuit relate to what the District did or did not do regarding student discipline. The District cannot discuss or comment on individual student discipline due to student privacy rights that are outlined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). Thus, the District cannot respond or discuss any discipline that may or may not have been imposed on any individual student. However, the District’s student discipline policies follow Minnesota law and include an opportunity for a student to present their side of the story prior to any discipline being imposed by the District.
Further, there were allegations made related to the “Edina Antifa” video that was posted online in November 2017. At the time the District became aware of the video, the matter was turned over to the police for investigation. To date, the individuals who posted the video have not been identified and there exists no evidence to prove that the party responsible for creating and posting the video was an EHS student.
The YCC also raised concerns in the litigation regarding the District’s alleged policy requiring other students to “respect” protesters at the High School. The District’s only policy along these lines is a policy required by Minnesota Statutes Section 121a.11, subdivision 3(c), which states: “A school district or charter school that has a student handbook or school policy guide must include a statement that anyone who does not wish to participate in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance for any personal reasons may elect not to do so and that students must respect another person’s right to make that choice.” The District’s policy is not only reasonable and constitutional, but expressly required by Minnesota law.
There have also been allegations asserting that the District refused to place American flags on school grounds and in EHS classrooms, and that requests from the YCC to get them hung were denied. These allegations are not true. The District recently completed a two-year construction project at the High School as part of a 2015 community-approved bond referendum. Over the course of the construction project, all wall coverings and décor, including flags, were removed from classrooms to ensure they were not damaged during the construction work. Due to the timing of the renovations, the District’s Buildings and Grounds Department was not able to re-hang flags in all classrooms prior to the beginning of the school year. As of now, all EHS classrooms have American flags.
The lawsuit has now been voluntarily dismissed by the Plaintiffs. In January, prior to settlement negotiations, the District filed a motion in Court to dismiss the claims, as the District strongly disagreed with all allegations that it had violated the rights of any student. However, in the spirit of cooperation with current students and to avoid the significant costs and expenses of continuing with the litigation, the District entered into the settlement agreement. The District did not pay any monetary damages or fees to the Plaintiffs and did not admit to any wrong-doing. While the District has agreed to make minor revisions to one Board policy to reiterate and affirm its support of student rights, it is not making any changes to its actual practices as the District has always supported and recognized those rights and will continue to do so.
This District is glad to put this matter to rest and return its full focus and attention to the education and support of its students, families and staff. Edina Public Schools remains committed to its mission of providing learning experiences that prepare all students to reach their full potential.
CONTACT: Susan Brott
Director of Communications and Community Engagement