In October, a Native American high school football player took a knee during the national anthem ahead of a matchup between schools from California and Arizona.
The protesting player from California’s San Pasqual Valley High School was pelted with racial epithets hurled by students at host Mayer High School in Spring Valley, Arizona. A San Pasqual Valley cheerleader was soaked with a water bottle Mayer students sprayed at their rivals, court records show.
San Pasqual Valley, which is in Winterhaven in the very southeast corner of California near the Arizona and Mexico borders, has a Native American and Latino population that combines to make up 92 percent of its student body, according a lawsuit related to the incident. Mayer High sits north of Phoenix, about halfway to Flagstaff and is 77 percent white.
The San Pasqual Valley Unified School District’s response to its students falling on the receiving end of race-motivated abuse was to restrict their First Amendment rights by banning political protest from players at home and away games. The new rule also required students and coaches to stand and remove their hats and helmets during the national anthem.
San Pasqual Valley High also canceled its series with Mayer High and declined to play the national anthem at the school’s home game the following week under orders from Superintendent Rauna Fox.
“We believe in the First Amendment rights of students and staff, but student safety has to be our top priority,” Fox told the Yuma Sun.
The decision resulted in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the unnamed student-athlete at the center of the controversy, who is referred to as “V.A.” in court records. The suit claimed that V.A.’s First Amendment rights were violated by the school district’s restrictions.
“Public school students have constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression that they do not shed at the schoolhouse gate, on the playing field, or on the basketball court,” the suit states.
A federal court agreed with the claim of the suit on Dec. 21 in a result made public this week granting a temporary injunction allowing San Pasqual Valley students to resume protests.
“Students like our client who conscientiously carry their values and ideals with them, cannot be silenced or directed on what to say or not say by their school in this manner,” said Katie Traverso, an attorney who argued for V.A.
Attorneys intend to seek a permanent injunction next. San Pasqual Valley Unified School District officials have not responded publicly to the ruling.
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