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Political group threatens to sue ISD 696

YAF claims student civil rights violated over 9/11 event

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/17/21

ELY – The Ely school district last week was accused of trampling on the constitutional rights of students and threatened with litigation by Young America’s Foundation over the …

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Political group threatens to sue ISD 696

YAF claims student civil rights violated over 9/11 event

Posted

ELY – The Ely school district was accused on Wednesday of trampling on the constitutional rights of students and threatened with litigation by Young America’s Foundation over the postponement of the student council’s 9/11 memorial event.

The school student council organized a “9/11 Never Forget Project” memorial event marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America, in partnership with Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth outreach organization that provides “essential conferences, seminars, educational materials, internships, and speakers to young people across the country,” according to their website. Local donations were going to be collected in connection with the event to support YAF.

YAF has sparked controversy in recent years through associations with speakers and leaders identified with extreme views.

After announcing and advertising the event, school administrators were made aware of the political affiliation of YAF. They pulled promotional advertisements that identified the group by name and moved to distance themselves from the group’s partnership.

“We are not partnering with the Young America Foundation. What we try to do is to stay apolitical,” ISD 696 Superintendent Erik Erie told the Timberjay. “YAF certainly has a strong political bandwidth on different issues. The student council advisor unwittingly approved the 9/11 event, not knowing or understanding what YAF represents. If it was a politically liberal action committee or organization, we wouldn’t endorse that either. Or anything in the middle.”

The day after ISD 696 imposed a face mask mandate and other protocols (Sept. 10) over the surging COVID-19 pandemic, administrators postponed the 9/11 memorial event until the school’s Veterans Day memorial in November. The event had been planned to be held outdoors at the baseball field.

In a Sept. 15 letter to Erie, YAF deputy general counsel Steven M. Mairella claimed the school district “engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” that violated the civil rights of YAF and Ely students. Mairella’s letter threatened to “commence litigation unless certain corrective actions are taken.”

YAF demanded a public apology from the school to YAF and the students who intended to participate in the 9/11 event, to be published in the Timberjay, on the ISD 696 website and all school-run social media accounts.

“The apology must admit to violating the constitutional rights of YAF and its students, as well as apologizing for the pretextual statement given to YAF and community about CDC guidelines as the justification for why the event was canceled,” the letter said.

Within 30 days of agreeing to a settlement, YAF calls for the Ely school district to “publish clear guidelines that are consistent with the Constitution for all student advertisements and events to prevent future abuses by school officials.”

Mairella continued, “School officials are not free to simply suppress expression they do not agree with to avoid discomfort or controversy resulting from that expression, particularly when those view are protected political speech like what YAF and the students were planning. YAF’s ultimate goal here is to ensure that (Ely) students are able to exercise their constitutional rights.”

Erie, citing advice from the district’s legal counsel, Klun Law Firm, of Ely, declined to comment when reached via telephone by the Timberjay on Friday.

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