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Minnesota family sues school district over rule requiring students to leave school grounds

FULDA, Minn. - Parents of a student attending Fulda High School have filed a lawsuit against Independent School District 505, asserting the school district violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constituti...

FULDA, Minn. - Parents of a student attending Fulda High School have filed a lawsuit against Independent School District 505, asserting the school district violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution by adopting a policy requiring some students to leave the school building during the day.

The relators are Kayla and Dayton Westra and their daughter, whose name is redacted to the initials C.W. for the case.

The lawsuit’s roots originate with a new policy adopted by the Fulda School Board in July. The policy prohibits students who take classes at post-secondary schools for college credit under the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) Act from being on the Fulda High School campus when they are not being instructed by teachers at the high school.

Because PSEO students must travel to post-secondary institutions, they have gaps in their scheduled classes during the school day compared to students taking only high school classes.

According to a statement from Dayton Westra, that means his daughter is forced to leave the school when she has such a gap in her schedule.

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“Every day, the District puts my daughter at risk by forcing her to leave the premises,” Westra said. “She must drive or walk to a place of refuge because she is expelled from the public school building. As I have stated repeatedly, you do not have my permission to force my daughter from the public school building during the school day.”

The complaint, filed with the state Court of Appeals on Sep. 28, asserts the school district is infringing on civil rights by restricting access to public education. It also asserts the district does not have the right to make such a decision.

“Not a single person, organization, or institution has the right to restrict or deny public education to individuals without due cause or due process,” Westra said.

According to a memorandum submitted by the relators on Oct. 7, the school district has a policy that allows students to request “special permission” from district administrators to remain in the school building during breaks without a class, but they rejected C.W.’s request for such a permission.

The relators claimed the school adopted the policy to discourage students from taking PSEO classes, thus maximizing its possible state aid. When a student enrolls in a PSEO course, the student’s primary school loses funding.

The Westras referenced Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a 1969 case that ruled, “A school district may not interfere with a student’s known rights, even if a school district believes that it is for a public good.”

The school district issued a response Oct. 4 stating that the district would “follow its policy as there was no legal justification or basis for setting it aside.”

In the statement, the district claimed it created the policy because of “problems with supervising and ensuring the safety of students enrolled in PSEO during their numerous free periods” and that the “increased demand for resources, such as teacher assistance on non-district courses, study halls, the library, and computers by students enrolled in PSEO courses put a strain on the district by taking away resources available to students who needed them for district courses.”

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The respondents also claimed that the Westras did not follow the proper procedures for dealing with the situation, as they “passed up an opportunity to appeal the board’s decision to adopt the policy when they failed to challenge the policy within 60 days.”

Another argument given by the district is that the court cannot grant the appeal because it does not have jurisdiction. The statement claims that the court cannot review the school district’s decision to enforce a policy created by the school board.

“The ramifications of the Court letting this appeal continue would be unprecedented and would carry the grave potential of crippling the Court,” said the statement. “This means that every time any school district administrator assigns detention for an infraction or tells a student to put a cell phone away or instructs a student to attend class, all in the name of enforcing school district policies, these decisions would be eligible for review by this Court.”

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