Marshall Public Schools settles lawsuit

Agreement calls for removal of all flags in cafeteria

Photo by Deb Gau Attorney Trevor Helmers met with members of the Marshall School Board on Monday and presented a settlement agreement in the lawsuit filed against Marshall Public Schools in connection with a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag displayed at Marshall Middle School. Board members approved the settlement agreement, which includes a condition that the flag display at MMS be taken down.

MARSHALL — Members of the Marshall School Board have approved a settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit over a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag hung in the Marshall Middle School cafeteria last year.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Marshall Public Schools said the district has done nothing wrong, and no money will be paid to the concerned citizens group suing the school district. However, as part of the conditions of the agreement, the district will take down the rainbow flag and other flags in the cafeteria.

School board members met in closed session with attorney Trevor Helmers during their regular Monday meeting. After reconvening the open meeting, the board unanimously approved an agreement to dismiss the lawsuit against MPS.

“It is important to note that as part of the voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit, the district is not admitting to any wrongdoing, as the district has appropriately followed the law at all points in this matter,” said a public statement school board member Sara Runchey read aloud at the meeting.

A group calling itself Marshall Concerned Citizens filed the lawsuit in April, roughly a year after community members packed school board meetings to speak both for and against the rainbow flag being displayed at MMS. The LGBTQ pride flag was part of a larger display, along with flags of different nations — including the United States — representing the backgrounds of MMS students.

The lawsuit alleged the school district’s policies on flag displays weren’t “viewpoint neutral.” It also claimed that the district had violated the First Amendment rights of a student, by confiscating his petition to take down the rainbow flag.

However, in the terms of the settlement approved Monday, the group suing MPS agrees to drop its claims, and the school district asserts that it has followed the law. In addition, MPS agrees to take down the flag display, and add new language to its school board policies saying students may circulate petitions on school property if the petition does not disrupt school activities like class, or violate other school policies.

The conditions also add language to board policies saying that students won’t be disciplined for signing another student’s petition, or for distributing or signing petitions off of school property.

The settlement agreement brought to the school board was signed by plaintiff Grant Blomberg, and by Don Le Clere on behalf of Marshall Concerned Citizens.

The school board released a statement at Monday’s meeting saying MPS was ready to continue defending itself in court, and believed it would have been successful if the lawsuit went to trial. However, the school district also wanted to avoid the expense of litigation, and wanted to compromise with the community and students who felt they were treated unfairly.

The flag project at MMS was also not intended to be permanent, and was planned to come down before the upcoming school year, the statement said.

“With new students entering and exiting different grades each year, it has become burdensome for the district to maintain the integrity of the flag project,” the statement said.

In their statement, MPS officials said the school district “has placed an emphasis on ensuring that our students feel safe and accepted, and that all students know that bullying or harassment will not be tolerated.”

“If there is any good that has come out of this controversy, it is that our LGBTQ students know that they are welcome, safe and supported in our schools, and this will not change,” the statement said.


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