BURLEY — Nine Idaho students are suing the Cassia County School District, Burley High School, Superintendent Gaylen Smyer, and a slew of BHS employees, claiming they were unfairly removed from their high school cheerleading team after staging a “sit-in” to protest conflicts with the school’s new cheerleading coach.
A lawsuit, filed Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court, alleges that the Idaho high school, school district and its employees violated the girls’ First Amendment rights in October.
The students, who were identified only by their initials, claim BHS cheerleading coach Laine Mansfield’s “temperament, fairness, judgment, and ability to safely coach the team began to concern” them shortly after she was hired in April 2017.
The suit alleges that Mansfield forbid team members from associating with certain students, failed to properly address safety concerns related to cheerleading stunts, selectively and unfairly enforced attendance rules and “degraded (cheerleaders) and their cheerleading abilities during practices. These comments went beyond the critical motivation that some coaches direct at their athletes.”
Debbie Critchfield, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the district had not yet been made aware of the lawsuit and said she had no comment.
After some of the students’ parents met with school administrators to address these concerns, the derogatory comments got worse, the suit alleges.
As tensions built with Mansfield, 14 members of the cheerleading squad “engaged in a peaceful ‘sit in’ protest in the BHS gym at the end of one of their before-school practices” on Sept. 29, 2017, 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 BHS Principals’ Office 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, an essay reflecting on the sit-in and an agreement to refrain from “speaking freely about their experience with the coaching staff or on the cheer team in general.” If they didn’t sign the statement, the students said, they would be dismissed from the team.
In early October, the nine students who brought the lawsuit returned their signed statements to the principal’s office — along with a letter from their parents reserving their right to participate in the Cassia County School District’s grievance process, the lawsuit said. Those nine students were dismissed from the cheerleading team via the following letter:
“It is clear to district level administration that while the stipulation agreements were returned the presence of the additional page or addendum suggests a continued conflict on the part of the cheer team, the individual student and parents with the coach and school administration. Such an expression is interpreted to be a desire to utilize the grievance process as opposed to the solution propounded by the administration. It is the belief of the school superintendent and the assistant superintendent the school and the cheer team would best be served by revoking the membership of [Plaintiff] on the Burley High School cheer team effective Monday, October 9, 2017 at 8:00 a.m. The dismissal from the Burley High School Cheer Team will be effective for the 2017-2018 school year. This decision, while not easy is based upon all the findings and information state above and weighed against the constitutional and state requirements concerning education services, the education process, academic discipline and learning, the need to avoid disruption of the education process along with statutory requirements to provide support and professional development for teachers.”
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 office 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.
Alleging emotional and psychological distress and damage to the cheerleaders’ reputations, the lawsuit asks that the defendants pay the complainants’ lawyer fees of $25,000. In addition, the students’ lawyers are asking for “punitive damages” against the district and its employees.
The student was detained Tuesday morning when he arrived at school.
“The student who made the threat was identified, detained immediately after getting off of the school bus, and searched for any weapons,” the Gooding Police Department said in a statement on its Facebook page. No weapons were found.
The student was suspended and isn’t at school, Fisher said, and charges are pending. The boy has had ongoing issues and police have been dealing with him for the last several weeks, he added.
As students arrived Tuesday morning at Gooding’s three school campuses, there was a police presence and only one entrance was open at each school.
The soft lockdown was lifted later that morning, and there’s no longer an active threat to the safety of students and school employees, police said in a statement. Schools resumed normal activities.
Gooding School District Superintendent Spencer Larsen wasn’t immediately available to comment Tuesday. But in a statement on the Gooding School District’s Facebook page, he wrote: “Officers apprehended the student in question as he exited the bus. No weapons were found in his bag, on his person, or in his locker. The student is not in school and there is no active threats to students or the school.”
In Wendell, all three schools went into a modified lockdown Tuesday morning — meaning children stayed in their classrooms and school building doors were locked — after a social media message threatened violence toward an individual student.
The Gooding County Sheriff’s Office determined the threat wasn’t credible before the school day started, Wendell School District Superintendent Greg Lowe said. But schools stayed in a lockdown until about 9 a.m. as an emergency response drill. “We used it as a learning experience.”
The social media message threatening violence was sent by a cousin of a Wendell student, Lowe said. Sheriff’s deputies are working to figure out where the person lives, he said, but they’re likely from either Washington or Nevada.
Last week, Mini-Cassia schools dealt with four days of social media threats. On Thursday, local and state law enforcement swept Declo High School after a threat mentioning a bomb at the school was posted on an Instagram account.
In Twin Falls, police served a warrant for the arrest of a boy they say pulled a gun on students of Magic Valley High School at an intersection not far from campus. The incident happened after an argument between two students continued when classes dismissed, Twin Falls police said in a Friday statement.
A separate teenager, a 17-year-old, has been charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, police said. Authorities would not disclose the names of the people involved.
Jerome police announced Friday a social media threat toward a Jerome High School student was false and “no actual, serious threat was present.” Filer High School was placed on a soft lockdown Friday afternoon after a Snapchat message depicted a person students knew driving with a gun.
RUPERT — A new humanitarian center in Rupert is set to open soon, hoping to be a place where people gather for community-service projects.
The Magic Valley Area Humanitarian Center spearheaded by Rupert residents Kathy Duncan, Becky Schow and Jennifer Lloyd.
Their nonprofit foundation has purchased the old Swensen’s grocery store, 723 F St., and will use volunteers to help renovate the building in the coming weeks.
“We are so excited and it’s going to be so neat,” Duncan said. “One of the best things about this is it brings people together for a good purpose.”
Duncan said all three women have taken part in humanitarian efforts in other parts of the world, and they decided to bring some of that goodwill home.
“We felt like we needed to help our community as well,” Duncan said. “There is a great need here too.”
The women are modeling their center on a similar one in Idaho Falls.
Lloyd said all groups will be welcomed at the center along with individual volunteers to work on the building renovations or upcoming projects, which will include quilt tying and assembling hygiene, school and newborn kits.
The center will also be a place that can help facilitate senior school and Eagle Scout projects along with other youth and company service projects.
School kits will include basic classroom necessities, and the groups will work with schools and teachers to identify students who will benefit from them.
“We will likely always be tying quilts and have quilt frames set up that will be donated to organizations for people in need,” Lloyd said. “It will give people a place to visit and be part of the community.”
The center will be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will open by appointment for groups or tours.
Lloyd said it has taken the group a year to form the foundation and establish its nonprofit status.
“The hope is to provide support to the community with much needed supplies but also give the volunteers a chance to serve their neighbors,” Lloyd said.
The foundation also plans to pursue grants and donations for the center. For more information or to donate, visit www. mvhumanitarian.org.
Another 17-year-old has been charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, police said.
The incident happened Thursday after an argument between two students continued when classes dismissed. Two students were in an argument throughout the day and left in separate vehicles, police said. Students reportedly stopped at a red light at Second Avenue North and Addison Avenue.
A passenger in one of the vehicles — who wasn’t involved in argument — reportedly approached the vehicle of one of the students who was involved in the argument and brandished a firearm, police said.
The victim returned to Magic Valley High, where he contacted the school resource officer. More police officers were dispatched to the school.
TWIN FALLS — President Donald Trump wants to arm teachers. The governor of Florida wants to raise the age limit for purchasing firearms. The survivors of last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School want assault weapons banned.
Nearly everyone admits school shootings have become so frequent that something finally has to be done to stop them. But what?
We asked Magic Valley politicians, police, doctors, teachers, students and gun experts: How do we prevent another mass shooting?