Education

Loomis school district agrees to relax rules on fliers after free speech lawsuit

The Loomis Union School District has agreed to stop requiring a disclaimer before students share information with classmates, settling a free-speech lawsuit that came after a charter school reprimanded a sixth-grader for distributing religious fliers on campus.

The Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based conservative legal group that defends religious freedoms, filed a federal suit against the Loomis Union School District in November, complaining that charter school officials had called the 12-year-old girl to the principal’s office four times in one day and required her to “write out an incident report to confess what she had done.”

School officials admonished the girl after she handed a flier to a friend during the lunch hour and the two discussed a Genesis Apologetics seminar that challenged classroom teachings on evolution. A day later, the girls decided to invite another friend, and that girl talked to her mother about it. The mother subsequently called the charter school director.

District representatives did not dispute that Loomis Basin Charter School administrators reprimanded the girl for handing out the fliers without permission. But they said the district had acted within the law by seeking a disclaimer: “The Loomis Union School District neither endorses nor sponsors the organization or activity represented in this document. The distribution of this material is provided as a community service.”

The suit also named Superintendent Gordon Medd, Loomis Basin Charter School and two campus administrators. It said the girl, identified as K.C., was told by the principal to turn over her fliers and was scolded for bringing them to school “because the content is religious and ... had not been approved by the school district.”

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez dismissed the case in mid-February after both parties said they had settled. Under the settlement, the district will no longer require students to get a disclaimer before sharing information with classmates.

“The district will no longer prevent girls like our client from giving invitations to church events and will not require pre-authorization with a written disclaimer,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute.

The school board must change the district policy in public session. The issue has yet to be placed on a school board agenda.

The settlement agreement was provided to The Bee by the district’s law firm under the state Public Records Act. It shows that the district agreed to pay $2,500 to the Pacific Justice Institute for attorneys’ fees and costs.

Superintendent Medd, the school board president and the district’s lawyers did not return calls and emails seeking comment about the case.

Loomis Union School District Trustee Mike Edwards said he felt proud “that the district moved quickly to settle the case in a way that I believe confirms that a child has the constitutional right to share their religious beliefs and thoughts while they are in school.”

In a Sept. 23 letter, the district’s law firm, Kingsley Bogard of Folsom, said the school never prohibited K.C. from discussing religion. The firm said the charter school curriculum includes “discussion of world religions, and the discussion of religion during class is open and broad.”

Dacus said he hopes the settlement “will send a message to school districts across the country that they cannot harass young kids who wish to invite their friends to church events.”

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

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