BURLEY, Idaho — Nine Idaho students filed a lawsuit claiming they were unfairly removed from their high school cheerleading team after staging a “sit-in” to protest conflicts with their new coach.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, alleges the Cassia County School District, Burley High School, Superintendent Gaylen Smyer and several school employees violated the girls’ First Amendment rights in October, the Idaho Statesman reported .
District spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said the district has not been made aware of the lawsuit and says she has no comment.
The students claim Burley High School cheerleading coach Laine Mansfield’s “temperament, fairness, judgment, and ability to safely coach the team began to concern” them shortly after she was hired.
Fourteen members of the cheerleading squad “engaged in a peaceful ‘sit in’ protest in the school’s gym at the end of one of their before-school practices” on Sept. 29, according to the lawsuit.
“That same day, BHS Vice Principals Kit Kanekoa and Andrew Wray informed plaintiffs that their participation in the sit-in would result in a one-week suspension from the cheer team,” the suit claims.
To rejoin the team, the administration asked each student to sign a statement agreeing to several conditions, including an additional two-week suspension from cheerleading activities, a four-hour service project and an agreement to refrain from “speaking freely about their experience with the coaching staff or on the cheer team in general.”
The nine students who brought the lawsuit in early October returned their signed statements to the principal’s office — along with a letter from their parents reserving their right to participate in the school district’s grievance process, the lawsuit said. Those nine students were dismissed from the team.
Lawyers for the students claim the girls were forced to transfer out of their morning cheerleading class but were prevented from joining other classes by school employees. One cheerleader said she was also dismissed from her aid position in the principals’ office because she had supposedly “‘lost the trust’ of BHS principals and teachers as a result of her participation in the sit-in.”
The lawsuit claims the school district and its employees violated constitutionally protected speech, not only by suspending the cheerleaders for their sit-in but again when the students were removed from the cheerleading team after reserving their right to the grievance process.
The lawsuit asks that the defendants pay the students’ lawyer fees of $25,000. The students’ attorneys also are asking for “punitive damages,” citing emotional and psychological distress and damage to the cheerleaders’ reputations.
Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com