The Edina school board has settled a federal lawsuit filed against the district by five Edina High School students and their parents who accused the district of violating their First Amendment rights and wrongfully disbanding their Young Conservatives Club.
The board voted unanimously to approve the settlement in a closed session during a special meeting Thursday evening.
The lawsuit was filed in early December following an incident on Nov. 9, when nearly a dozen Edina High students refused to stand during a playing of taps and the national anthem in a Veterans Day assembly. The protesters’ action outraged the Young Conservatives Club, a student group not sponsored by Edina High School at the time. Club members took to Twitter to express their objections, according to the suit.
Members of the club also sent private chat messages among themselves that contained disparaging remarks about other students, including Somali-Americans. Those messages were made public in a YouTube video from an Edina High “anti-fascist” group, which demanded an apology. The district says there is no evidence the students who made the video attended Edina High.
In December, Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing students Nick Spades, Elizabeth Ebner, Jazmine Edmond, Tatum Buyse and Ana Doval, alleged that school leaders revoked the Young Conservatives Club’s status as a school-sponsored organization — a claim the district denies.
On Jan. 22, the district filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing it had not violated students’ rights. A few days later, the district and the plaintiffs went into negotiations and agreed to settle.
In an e-mail Friday, parent David Buyse wrote that the families received assurances that the Young Conservatives Club could be reinstated as a school-sponsored club, or a nonsponsored one, “with the ability to exercise free speech without consequence.” That means, he said, being able to “call out” anyone who violates “patriotic beliefs and conservative values.”
The district’s legal counsel said the settlement would prevent the plaintiffs from taking any future legal action against the school system.
Meanwhile, the district says it “did not pay any monetary damages or fees to the Plaintiffs and did not admit to any wrongdoing.”
The district said it moved quickly to settle the lawsuit to avoid what could have been a costly legal battle. Officials said their general liability insurance covered the initial costs to fight the case, declining to specify the total costs.
The lawsuit charged that the district “disbanded” the conservative group and argued that the school refused to sponsor its club. School officials denied those claims, according to a district statement. The district said the students had not originally applied for club status for the 2017-18 school year, but after the lawsuit was filed, the students did apply and the club was approved.
Under the settlement, the district will tweak its policy to restate and declare its support of student rights. The district also will slightly revise its high school club guidelines to state that the district cannot revoke a club’s sponsorship based on expressions of free speech unless the expression violates the district’s mission.
“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,” the district said in a statement.
Staff writer Anthony Lonetree contributed to this report.