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Young conservatives sue school district for shutting them down amid Veterans Day feud

Students in Minnesota protested by sitting down during “Taps” on Veterans Day, prompting a response by their conservative counterparts that has led to a federal free-speech lawsuit.
Students in Minnesota protested by sitting down during “Taps” on Veterans Day, prompting a response by their conservative counterparts that has led to a federal free-speech lawsuit. deulitt@kcstar.com

A Minnesota high school has become so roiled in a political feud that a free speech lawsuit on behalf of conservative students was filed against school officials and the district earlier this month.

Edina High School, located in a Minneapolis suburb, held a Veterans Day assembly during which several students sat in protest while taps played — a song customarily played at military funerals.

That protest was met with outrage by members of the school’s Young Conservatives Club, according to multiple reports including in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the school’s news site, Zephyrus.

The conservative students reportedly wrote messages to one another disparaging the students who protested during taps. Screen shots of messages sent between the conservative students were published online. In them, the students singled out one protester, saying “he can barely speak English,” according to Zephyrus.

Other messages insulted the protesters and suggested they didn’t belong in the U.S.: “let’s all do something nice and pitch in for a plane ticket,” one message read.

The Star Tribune reported some of the conservative students’ targets were Somali-Americans.

Zephryus reportedly communicated with the students who captured screen shots of the messages and released them online. Those students dubbed themselves members of an “EHS Anti-Fascists” group and said their goal wasn’t to expose the conservative students but instead expose what they perceived as wrongdoing by the group as a whole.

“The comments in the Young Conservatives Club group chat were completely unacceptable, and it became abundantly clear to us that the issue was never going to get solved internally,” the EHS Anti-Fascists told Zephyrus.

In response to the incident, high school administrators revoked the Young Conservatives Club’s status as a school-sponsored club, the Star Tribune reported, for not adhering to the school’s mission of respecting peers. The club can still organize activities, but its membership has dwindled since the revocation.

The five conservative students and their parents responded with a federal lawsuit this month that claims the conservatives’ First Amendment right to free speech was essentially restricted by the district.

Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing the students, said in a statement that although some students can “disrespect military veterans and the United States flag,” the school didn’t allow his clients to call out “the disrespectful behavior.”

Kaardal says it’s a clear case of “discrimination against students with conservative beliefs.”

The five students are Nick Spades, Elizabeth Ebner, Jazmine Edmond, Tatum Buyse and Ana Doval, the Star Tribune reports.

The EHS Anti-Fascists group also posted a YouTube video in which a student in a Guy Fawkes mask said the conservative students had fostered racism and threatened to expose the names of those who had maligned the protesters in the messages, according to Zephyrus, which also reported some conservative students, fearing for their safety after the video came out, left school early one day.

Superintendent John Schultz called the video “inflammatory and creepy” in an email to parents and guardians.

Political polarization was already prominent in the community before Veterans Day. The magazine Thinking Minnesota, which the Star Tribune reports is produced by a conservative think tank, charged the district with liberal “indoctrination,” on the cover of its fall 2017 edition — released in October.

“Instead of giving Edina students the intellectual tools necessary to thrive in the 21st century,” wrote former Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, “Edina public school leaders are increasingly using limited school time to indoctrinate students in left-wing political orthodoxies.”

“A is for activist,” the cover blares.

Edina school board candidates spent an entire forum discussing the article, the Star Tribune reported.

“...there are valid voices that are concerned about our diversity and equity,” candidate Matthew Fox said.

“We need to depoliticize the schools and create an environment of openness,” an Edina parent said.

The Young Conservative Club students’ lawsuit calls for the reinstatement of their club and for the court to find unconstitutional the district’s policy that clubs following the school’s mission.

Edina Public Schools has declined to comment to some outlets.

But Zephyrus, the school news source, reported Edina High Principal Andy Beaton said “the Young Conservatives Club is allowed to post something and say, ‘We totally disagree with students sitting during [the Veterans Day assembly],’ but when the statements become disrespectful, that’s when we have to step in.”

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg

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