LAS VEGAS – Just how frequently to public schools get away with violating students’ rights, just because most students don’t know their rights, or how to find legal help when they need it?
One student, Angelique Clark of Las Vegas, is one bright student who refused to be trampled on.
Last December Clark filed an application to form a pro-life club for students at her school, the West Career and Technical Academy in the Clark County (Las Vegas) school district.
In February she learned the school’s assistant principal had denied the application for a variety of reasons: he considered abortion “controversial,” pro-choice students would feel “left out,” and other people were more qualified than Clark to speak out on the issue, according to a release from the Thomas More Society.
Clark enlisted the aid of her national organization, Students for Life of America, which retains the Thomas More Society for legal representation.
The Thomas More Society got involved with Clark’s case and sent a letter to the school district, citing clear legal arguments and demanding approval of the club by June 1, 2015. No response came back, so the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on Clark’s behalf in mid-August.
That did the trick.
This week the school district formally approved Clark’s application to form a student pro-life club, with no strings attached.
School district General Counsel Carlos McDade formally confirmed on Aug. 31 “that Angelique Clark will be allowed to form a non-curriculum related, non-school sponsored, student initiated, student led pro-life group at West Career & Technical Academy.”
That’s consistent with the law, according to Jocelyn Floyd, an attorney with the Thomas More Society who represented Clark in her case.
Not only do Clark and her fellow club members have a First Amendment right to express their views, but they are protected by the Equal Access Act of 1984, a federal law which guarantees equal rights for students religious groups.
“I am so excited that I will finally be able to start a pro-life club at my high school,” Clark was quoted as saying in a news release. “I started with the idea to provide a safe place to educate my fellow students on the beauty of life at all stages, and I am very thankful to Students for Life of America and the Thomas More Society for helping me defend my rights so that students at my school can now gather for life.”
The Thomas More Society represents students around the nation in similar situations several times a year, Floyd said. In most cases school districts are responsive to letters explaining the law and demanding approval for pro-life student clubs, she said.
The Clark County school district’s lack of response was unusual, she said.
“I’m guessing that they didn’t disagree with our points of law,” Floyd said. “I’m guessing that they figured we were bluffing and would go away.”
In some cases students who try to establish pro-life groups are rejected because school administrators tend to be more liberal and pro-choice, Floyd said. But more frequently the rejection is based on a fear of attack by progressive media if they approve conservative or religious-based student organizations, she said.
Sometimes school administrators are aware of the law and knowingly attempt to violate students’ rights, Floyd said. But in the majority of cases the administrators do not know the law themselves, she said.
Either way, the fact is that students can easily have their rights denied if they are not informed and diligent, Floyd said.
That’s what Clark did, and in the end she won.
“In this case, after meeting with her assistant principal, Angelique had the motivation to research the law and it worked out in her favor,” Floyd said.
Even if America, constitutional rights and legal protections can be completely useless, unless citizens take the time to learn their rights and have the courage to fight for them.
That’s apparently as true in public schools as it is anywhere else.