Student sues school district after her forced ‘confession’
By Michael F. Haverluck, OneNewsNow.com December 11, 2014 12:22 pm
courtroomNot long after a student from Loomis Basin Charter School (LBCS) invited her two friends to a Creation seminar held off campus, school officials became livid, summonsing her to the principal’s office four times in the same day in order to force her into writing a “confession” of what she had done.
Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is now representing the student against Loomis Union School District (LUSD), located in Loomis, California, approximately 30 miles northeast of Sacramento. The legal non-profit organization alleges in the complaint that the school district violated the student’s constitutional rights by prohibiting her from expressing her beliefs.
After ordering the student — who PJI dubbed “Esther” for anonymity’s sake — to confess, school officials in the principal’s office vowed that they would censor any future invitations that she planned to give to friends.
In September, Esther had invited a couple of her friends to a free, off-campus, non-school seminar in response to the teaching of Darwinian evolution in her class, which has its curriculum based in the school-issued textbook Early Civilizations.
“Currently, the class is discussing plate tectonics and the Big Bang theory,” PJI’s complaint on behalf of Esther reads. “[Esther] sought out more information to be able to express her beliefs and understanding on the issue to participate in the ongoing conversation.”
Because evolutionary theory was routinely taught as fact in her class, and as many students in her class began comparing the creationist account of Genesis with Darwin’s biological evolutionary theory, Esther wanted her peers to join her in getting a more comprehensive understanding of human origins — as well as the origins of the earth and the known universe — by attending a Creationist seminar.
During the semester, Esther learned about the three-session Creationist seminar and became intrigued about the issue. She then invited one of her friends from science class — who also expressed a keen interest in the debate — to the second session. The two then invited a third friend to session three.
The seminar presented by the nonprofit Christian organization Genesis Apologetics, based in Folsom, California, has a stated mission of “equipping youth, pastors, parents and students with biblical answers for evolutionary teaching in public schools.”
Esther presented the Genesis Apologetics invitations to her friends during lunch breaks at school in the format of flyers so that their parents would have information to gauge whether or not they wanted them to attend.
It is believed that one of the parents of a student who received an invitation was the one who complained to school officials that her child was given the opportunity to attend an off campus, non-school event.
Not in my school
Esther’s complaint claims that LBCS director Erica Sloane, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, lashed out in anger at Esther when confronting her about the invitation. Sloan allegedly ordered her to submit a written confession and warned her that similar invitations in the future must be accompanied with an official stamp of approval from school officials.
“[Sloane] proceeded to scold [Esther] for bringing the … flyer to school because the content is religious and because it had not been approved by the school district,” the complaint reads. “Sloane told [Esther] that she was not permitted to distribute the flyer to students … and [that] her actions were unacceptable.”
The complaint also indicates that the school director was hostile toward Esther because of her Christian beliefs, which Sloane allegedly attempted to suppress, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“[Sloane] expressed her anger, through an intimidating tone and expressions, at [Esther] over the situation … and further directed [Esther] to not talk about religion at school, even during lunch,” the complaint continues.
According to the lawsuit, the second of four summons Esther received to go to the principal’s office within 24 hours resulted in the student being compelled to fill out an incident report documenting her confession of what she had done on school grounds. Within 15 minutes, Sloane declared the confession “inadequate,” spurring Esther’s third summons of the day. After this attempt did not meet Sloane’s approval, Esther was summoned to the principal’s office for the fourth and final time that day.
Inconsistent with the treatment Esther experienced in the principal’s office that day, LBCS has a mission statement that encourages students to “think independently and connect content to real life” while pursuing the quest for knowledge.
“[Loomis Basin Charter School’s aim] is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable, patriotic, honorable, responsible and caring young people who have the background, skills, knowledge and qualities necessary to participate successfully and actively in a changing and increasingly interrelated world,” the complaint reads, quoting the school’s educational goals.
But when Esther interacted with the school’s administration, she witnessed no trace of anything highlighted in the mission statement.
“[Esther] has been disturbed by these events and felt harassed, traumatized and unsafe to the point that she did not want to return to school in the days that followed because of the scolding and harsh interactions,” the lawsuit declares.
After Esther communicated her four office visits to her mother, the concerned parent sought an explanation from school officials, who told her that Esther was prohibited from disseminating any kind of flyer to any students on campus at any time — inside or outside of class, before or after school.
According to the lawsuit, an attached written consent must be attached to any literature Ester wishes to hand to any peer on campus.
“[Esther] cannot personally give printed material to another pupil without first obtaining a district disclaimer affixed to the literature,” the complaint states, expressing the school’s stance on the matter.
Students don’t abandon their rights at the schoolhouse gate
PJI argues that LBCS’s attempt to suppress Esther’s expression on campus violates her free-speech rights under the State of California’s Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
“[Esther] has a speech right to possess on her person and distribute a flyer expressing a religious viewpoint,” PJI attorneys express in the lawsuit.
They contend that Sloan and other school officials pressured Esther to give up her constitutionally protected rights every time she entered the schoolhouse gate.
“The scolding and intimidation by Sloane as against [Esther] to cease and desist from distributing said flyer, cease and desist from keeping a similar flyer on her person or in her backpack, and to just say no to anyone who may provide her with a flyer to share with her fellow classmates, or face additional administrative action are a form of censorship which is inconsistent with the rights guaranteed to [Esther] as a citizen,” the student’s complaint explains.
The lawsuit, which was filed in early November, also lists LUSD superintendent Gordon Medd and LBCS acting director Katie Messerli, along with other school officials, as defendants in the suit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California by PJI attorneys on behalf of Esther. Media outlets were unable to attain a response from school officials about their alleged violations of Esther’s constitutional rights.