School tax dollars at work | Arkansas Blog

School tax dollars at work

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The Watson Chapel School District decided to spit on the U.S. Constitution by punishing students for wearing armbands to protest school policy.

The ACLU sued and won. The district hasn't given up fighting yet. But thanks to an 8th Circuit order today, the school district has now run up more than $60,000 in legal bills it must reimburse plaintiffs (who knows how much it's spent on the school district's lawyers) trying to defend the indefensible.

Federal District Judge Leon Holmes found that the Watson Chapel School District violated students' First Amendment rights by suspending students for wearing black armbands that symbolized disagreement with school policy.  
After finding that the students' rights were violated, the district court ordered WCSD to pay $45,601.54 in attorneys fees and costs to attorneys for the students.
 
WCSD appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that they had a right to suspend the students, despite a 1969 United States Supreme Court case - clearly on point, and asking that the attorneys fee award be set aside.  On September 10, the court of appeals also held that WCSD violated students' constitutional rights to free speech, and it upheld the court's award of attorneys fees.  Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order awarding another $14555.00 in fees and $1386.44 in costs for students' attorneys work on the appeal.
 
Upon learning that the appeals court had also found that the district violated students' rights, WCSD Assistant Superintendent Ivy Lincoln initially vowed to appeal the issue to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The district has 90 days from the court's September 2 decision in which to petition for certiorari to the SCOTUS.  It remains to be seen whether the district will in fact petition for certiorari, and it appears there has been no discussion of the issue at WCSD school board meetings since the ruling was issued. 
 
After the district announced they would suspend students for wearing black armbands to school, the ACLU of Arkansas notified the district that such suspensions would be unlawful.  The district decided to suspend students anyway, and since that time, a federal trial judge and federal court of appeals both sided with the ACLU. 
 
Will WCSD learn from this and move on, or will they continue to bang their heads against the brick walls known Free Speech and Supreme Court precedent?  Time will tell.
 
 
Holly Dickson
Staff Attorney
ACLU of Arkansas


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