Federal civil rights lawsuit approaches pre-trial conference

Live Oak High School students from left, Daniel Galli, Austin

The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the parents of three
students who were asked to leave Live Oak High School for not
removing their American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo last year is
advancing through the judicial system after Judge James Ware denied
Morgan Hill Unified School District’s motion to dismiss in
February. The next hearing is a June 17 pretrial conference.
The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the parents of three students who were asked to leave Live Oak High School for not removing their American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo last year is advancing through the judicial system after Judge James Ware denied Morgan Hill Unified School District’s motion to dismiss in February. The next hearing is a June 17 pretrial conference.

“The court’s decision recognizes the significance of the First Amendment issues at stake in this case. It allows us to move the case forward to the ultimate goal of vindicating the student’s free speech rights,” said William Becker Jr., the plaintiffs’ attorney.

The parents of the boys and school district officials have refused to comment on the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are John and Dianna Dariano, parents of Matt Dariano; Kurt and Julie Ann Fagerstrom, parents of Dominic Maciel; and Kendall and Joy Jones on behalf of Daniel Galli. They are co-represented by the Becker Law Firm in Los Angeles and the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The attorney representing MHUSD, former principal Nick Boden and former vice principal Miguel Rodriguez asked for part of the suit to be dismissed arguing that there was no “live case or controversy” because MHUSD has no policy against wearing patriotic clothing. The decision by Live Oak’s administration that day was rogue and not supported by the school district, attorney Alyson Cabrera argued.

“Despite the court’s ruling, we continue to believe that plaintiffs’ prospective relief claims are moot. We appreciate Judge Ware’s consideration of the issues however, and his acknowledgment that, ‘without the ability to protect and foster a safe environment in our public schools, educational equity and the democratic pillar it provides could crumble.’ As we move forward, we will continue to vigorously defend the district and the administrators in this action,” Cabrera said after Ware’s decision Feb. 17.

Judge Ware did grant part of the defendants’ motion to dismiss claims by the legal guardians of the boys that their constitutional rights were violated that day. Ware ruled that they were not.

The lawsuit was filed June 23, 2010 and seeks nominal damages for violating their son’s First and 14th Amendment rights, which Rodriguez reportedly called “incendiary” that day. Also, they are seeking “prospective” relief against MHUSD to insert a policy that is specific – not vague as Becker describes the current policy – and ensures no other student’s rights “will be shed at the school gates” Becker said in June, referring to the Supreme Court decision of 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

Beckett has questioned why students at Live Oak last year were not sent home for wearing Mexican flags and Mexican-themed clothing, while his clients were sent home for wearing clothing celebrating the United States. Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla; it’s not considered Mexico’s independence day and is often a celebration of Mexican culture in the United States.

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