ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A father is accusing St. Paul charter school officials of violating his sixth-grade daughter’s right to free speech when administrators prohibited her from passing out anti-abortion fliers.
Nicholas Zinos of St. Paul filed a federal lawsuit Friday in federal court on behalf of the girl.
Nova policy requires administrator approval before students hand out or post materials at school, according to the lawsuit obtained by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
It alleges the school policy gives administrators “unbridled discretion” to limit student speech in violation of the First and 14th amendments.
In an email Saturday, Nova Executive Director Brian Bloomfield said school officials were still working on retaining legal counsel.
“… But please know that our teachers and staff remain focused each day on delivering the highest quality classical education to our families,” he wrote.
In a letter to Zinos included in court documents, Bloomfield brought up a 1988 court case that gives public schools the right to set limits on student speech. He also pointed out that Nova’s high school has an anti-abortion student club and that the school would support the girl if she chose to form her own extracurricular club as a freshman.
“There are places for students to express their thoughts and opinions, whatever they are, … but not everywhere and anytime within the walls of a school,” Bloomfield’s letter said.
Zinos, the owner of a religious bookselling business in St. Paul, referred questions to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based legal advocacy organization.
“Unless there is a material disruption, students have the absolute right to distribute materials at school,” said Matt Sharp, an attorney with the organization. “There was no evidence of disruption at the school at all.”
Zinos is seeking an injunction against the school’s policy, legal fees and nominal damages.
Raleigh Hannah Levine, an expert on the First Amendment at the William Mitchell College of Law, said that over the years, several court cases have spelled out some limitations to free speech at public schools, but none of them appear to apply in this case.
For instance, the case Bloomfield referenced in his letter involved a school newspaper. It established that schools can limit student expression when it is under the banner of an officially sanctioned school activity.
If the students caused disruption while distributing materials in the school cafeteria, the school could intervene as well. But offending their peers does not qualify, Levine said.
“It is never legitimate to restrict speech because it is offensive to someone,” Levine said.
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