Washoe School District changes stance on student's punishment

Noah Christiansen.
Noah Christiansen.(KOLO)
Published: Mar. 23, 2018 at 5:38 PM PDT
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The Washoe County School District has decided to essentially take back the punishment handed to a student who

in Congressman Mark Amodei's office during a conversation about gun control.

In a statement released by the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union, student Noah Christiansen said he was happy with the outcome.

"This has been a very stressful week, but I am glad I stood up for my rights and I hope other students will do the same,” Christiansen said..

“This is a major win for the first amendment. Noah will move forward with a clean disciplinary record," ACLU of Nevada Legal Director Amy Rose said in the statement. "Students, like everyone else, have a right to criticize government officials. Now students will know they have a right to speak passionately about their political beliefs, free from retaliation.”

The district late Friday released the following statement:

"Mindful of its fiscal responsibilities to local taxpayers and in order to ensure that WCSD resources are spent on educating students rather than on expensive and protracted litigation, WCSD has agreed to the ACLU’s request regarding modification of a McQueen High School student’s educational records. WCSD is willing to compromise and will no longer recognize the discipline that was issued to the student.

"Due to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) requirements, WCSD cannot provide further comment or information about individual student records, disciplinary actions, or any identifying facts about this or any case.

"On March 14, 2018, during a student walkout protesting gun violence in schools, the student in question engaged in a profanity-laden phone call to a staff member of an elected United States Representative while on school property, during school hours, and in front of a group of fellow students. Prior to the event, the WCSD administration informed school staff and parents that WCSD supports all students who engage in the democratic process and encouraged students to work with the school staff to organize events on campus to talk about school safety.

"The McQueen students decided to stay on campus during the walkout and call elected officials to discuss gun control laws. One student initiated a phone call to the Congressional staff member stating that the student was acting on behalf of McQueen High School, and then proceeded to shout, curse, and demean the Congressional staffer. The student’s conduct was reported to be so inappropriate that a fellow student who overheard the conversation felt compelled to calm the student down and the Congressional staffer decided to contact the McQueen administration to complain about the conduct. The student’s conduct also created a disruption of the school environment as other McQueen students mimicked the student’s behavior and shouted profanity at McQueen teaching staff.

"The McQueen principal responded in accordance with the WCSD’s educational mission and its progressive discipline procedures. District leadership feels strongly that McQueen High School administrators followed all policies and procedures in this case when disciplining the student for offensive and inappropriate on-campus conduct.

"Days after the March 14 incident, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a demand letter to the WCSD stating that the student should bear no consequences for the disrespectful and offensive on-campus speech and threatened WCSD with expensive litigation. WCSD responded to the litigation threat by noting the factual inaccuracies contained in the letter, as well as providing the ACLU with United States Supreme Court precedent which holds that the First Amendment does not prevent school officials from disciplining inappropriate speech that undermines the school's basic educational mission, part of which is to instill manners of civility and socially appropriate conduct in our young people.

"However, because WCSD is mindful of its fiscal responsibilities to local taxpayers and in order to ensure that its resources are spent on educating students rather than on expensive and protracted litigation, the District has agreed to the ACLU’s request and is offering a compromise and will no longer recognize the discipline that was issued to the student.

“The Washoe County School District respects the First Amendment rights of students and encourages students to exercise those First Amendment rights and to engage in the political process,” said Traci Davis, WCSD Superintendent. “However, as educators we also serve a critical educational purpose to prepare our students for citizenship in our democratic system, which includes educating our youth on manners of civility, proper decorum when expressing opinions, and to treat all persons with respect. I support our teachers and administrators who work tirelessly to instill these essential values in our students.

“The pedagogical duties of our educators to ensure our students engage in respectful conduct when expressing their opinions is heightened when, as was the case here, the student speech occurs on school campus, with other students present, and when a student represents that he is speaking on behalf of the school,” said Neil Rombardo, WCSD Chief General Counsel. “This important role for our educators has been reinforced by our nation’s highest court when analyzing the parameters of student speech in holding that nothing in the Constitution prohibits school districts from insisting that certain modes of expression are inappropriate and subject to sanctions. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the inculcation of the foregoing values is truly the work of the schools.”

ACLU Statement on Washoe County School District’s Final Decision Regarding Student’s Call to Congressman:

Las Vegas—ACLU of Nevada Legal Director, Amy Rose, and our client, Noah C., issued the following statements celebrating the school district’s decision to overturn our client’s unconstitutional school suspension:

“This is a major win for the first amendment. Noah will move forward with a clean disciplinary record. Students, like everyone else, have a right to criticize government officials. Now students will know they have a right to speak passionately about their political beliefs, free from retaliation,” said Amy Rose.

“I am so happy with this outcome. This has been a very stressful week, but I am glad I stood up for my rights and I hope other students will do the same,” said Noah.

Noah was suspended on March 14 after Congressman Mark Amodei's office reported him to school administration for using colorful language in his passionate plea for gun reform. The ACLU of Nevada on Monday sent a demand letter to McQueen High School and the Washoe County School District seeking to have the suspension overturned. A letter was also sent to Congressman Amodei to remind him that students do have rights under the First Amendment and requested that he retract his office’s complaint and apologize to Noah.