Hearing For Students' Lawsuit Against McKeesport Area School District Postponed

The lawsuit was supposed to go to court Monday but it was postponed as the school district and the students are in negotiations for a possible resolution

Lynne Hayes-Freeland
April 22, 2019 - 1:24 pm

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) – Eleven students in the McKeesport Area School District proposed a Black Student Union club. When the school district did not approve the club, the students filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school district with representation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

“The arguments from the school district about why the club can’t form have been shifting,” ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak told KDKA Radio’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland Monday morning. “The law is crystal clear. Not only does the First Amendment of the Constitution apply but Congress passed a law making it clear. If schools allow what are called non-curricular student clubs or any club not related to a particular course and they meet outside of regular school hours like before school or after school, if the district allows any of those they have to allow all of those clubs.”

“The law first passed to facilitate bible and Christian clubs, and you had a lot of school districts that weren’t sure where the line was in terms of whether they were promoting religion or not,” Walczak explained. “The law makes it clear that these are not school sponsored, the school allows them to exist, and if you are going to allow some you have to allow all including religious and political clubs.”

The lawsuit was supposed to go to court Monday but it was postponed as the school district and the students are in negotiations for a possible resolution. “We’ve been in discussions, we’ve made good progress and we are cautiously optimistic that within a day or so we will be able to resolve the dispute,” Walczak said.

Walczak said that the students “sense” that there are some practices in the district that may not be fair to students of color. “When we at the ACLU pulled data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, it does look like there are some significant disparities between how the school punishes students of color and how frequently they expel them from school.”

“The idea is to do this in a constructive way, in the spirit of collaboration,” Walczak said. “If there are issues and if they are brought to the school board’s attention, the hope and expectation is that the school board will say that these are problems and we need to address them,” Walczak said.

Walczak said that the two parties have been exchanging paperwork and he hopes a resolution can be reached within a few days.

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