Friday, February 21, 2014

Wilson High School General Council Reacts to Faith and Freedom

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Yesterday I posted an article about censorship in regard to Tacoma's Wilson High School Students For Life organization.

I asked you to contact Wilson High School in Tacoma.

You did and they heard your voice.

Shannon McMinimee, General Council of the Tacoma, Washington School and School District responded directly to our story, telling me she was responding to our post on behalf of the school and the District.

She claims there is a "tremendous amount of inaccurate information being shared by an out of state public relations firm and law firm." I presume that is Life News and the Thomas More Society, both of whom I quoted.

Clearly there is considerable difference between what the students are saying and what the legal counsel for the school district is telling me.

Her response is posted in the comments under our article yesterday.

I am also publishing her comments in this post today.

This is her response in full:

I am the General Counsel of the Tacoma School District and I'm responding to your post on behalf of the school and the District. There is a tremendous amount of inaccurate information being shared by an out-of-state public relations firm and law firm, so let me explain to the facts of what has occurred as the District understands them to be:

There is an Associated Student Body (ASB) approved Pro-life student group at Wilson that was formed this school year. That group initially put up two posters without following the appropriate process that all ASB student groups are supposed to follow. School Administration and Student Life staff met with the student group to remind them of the appropriate process for poster approval and gave them guidance on what types of activates they could engage in consistent school/ASB rules and with US Supreme Court case law.

Any ASB club can request approval to display posters, but the school does not have to agree to allow groups to display posters that (1) constitute true threats; (2) are or could cause a material and substantial disruption of the educational environment or impinge on the rights of others; (3) are vulgar, lewd, obscene or plainly offensive; or (4) promote the use of illegal drugs. Also, the administration can regulate school sponsored speech (i.e. content of newspaper, content of yearbook, content of assemblies etc). Additionally, if posters were put up that failed to identify the group whose few point was being represented, those could be taken down to ensure that it was not confused for school-sponsored speech or as the viewpoint of the school/district. All ASB groups have these same legal principles applied to them.

Any allegation that this group was not allowed to display posters at any point is false as is any allegation that they have been denied the ability to put up posters that express a message, or a controversial message. This group (and any other ASB student club) would only be prevented from displaying posters that were not submitted through the approval process or fall within the one of the categories outlined above.

This particular club presently has 30 Pro-life Posters displayed throughout the Wilson campus, all of which were approved through the process for all ASB club posters. 18 are invitational information to meetings with times and dates and 12 reflect a message of the group. Some of those 30 posters include ones that would likely be considered to be controversial or offensive to some people (including posters with depictions of fetuses and embryos). They are up because the school administration determined that they were not be disruptive, obscene, or any other category of speech that is not permissible in the public school setting. There are only two other club posters up in the school: one Gay Strait Alliance Club and one Yoga Club. 30 of the 32 club posters are those of this club. Considering this, it is definitely surprising that the Pro-life group is asserting that they are being denied the opportunity that has been given to other student clubs.

To date, the Pro-life group has been given permission to do every activity they have requested. They sought and received approval to hold a diaper drive, though to my knowledge they have not held it. They were planning to host a guest speaker, but the speaker cancelled due to weather. They talked about wanting to do a candle light vigil, but have to date not actually requested the ability to do that on school grounds. It is my understanding that the group never asked to do a "Day of Silence" as is being claimed. If they wanted to do so, they could so long as their conduct was not disruptive of the educational environment.

I hope that provides you all greater clarity as to facts of this matter.

Shannon McMinimee
General Counsel
Tacoma Public Schools