Parents Defending Education Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Croton-Harmon Union Free School District’s Policies that Infringe Students’ Right to Free Speech

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“Over the past century, the Supreme Court has made abundantly clear that students have robust First Amendment rights – and that education officials may not trample on these rights at their pleasure. Silencing unpopular viewpoints and compelling the speech of students in a public school system is fundamentally un-American.”

Nicole Neily, President and Founder of Parents Defending Education

Croton-on-Hudson, NY. — Parents Defending Education (PDE), a national nonprofit membership association that empowers concerned citizens to become more engaged in America’s education system, filed a lawsuit today against Croton-Harmon Union Free School District. Parents Defending Education v. Croton-Harmon Union Free School District, et al. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that district policies violate students’ First Amendment rights by discriminating against certain viewpoints, compelling students to affirm beliefs about sex and gender that are contrary to their own deeply held beliefs, and proscribing a broad swath of protected speech uttered daily.

Croton-Harmon’s speech codes bar “unwelcome,” “offensive,” and “hate[ful]” speech based on certain protected classes, but not on all—which permits the district to police speech based on viewpoint. Therefore, some students are protected for views that align with the district’s views, and other students may face punishment because their deeply held beliefs are contrary to the district’s discipline agents.
The district’s policies coerce orthodoxy on controversial issues such as “gender identity,” “sexual orientation,” “race,” “immigration,” etc. While other public schools across the country foster a diversity of thought and ideas, this is not the case at Croton-Harmon. Our members and their students in the district are forced to curtail their speech or keep their beliefs to themselves, for fear they will receive threats or backlash from district administrators.

The policies in Croton-Harmon are contrary to Supreme Court precedent, which makes two things clear: students have the freedom to speak, and students do not lose these freedoms at the schoolhouse gates. Enforcing policies that compel students to affirm views that are contrary to their deeply held beliefs, as well as implement overbroad policies that can police students’ free speech, sets students up for failure. It’s also unconstitutional.

Croton-Harmon weaves Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) into its curriculum and enforcement of its policies – and incorporating DEI into an institution that already prohibits countless forms of protected speech could exacerbate the constitutional injuries students are already suffering. For example, Croton-Harmon’s policies seriously threaten severe punishment for students unwilling to affirm the DEI narrative labeling Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as oppressed. Under the existing policies, students may be punished for their deeply held beliefs that do not align with the district, such as “traditional marriage,” “there are only two sexes,” “support of Israel,” and “legal immigration.”

PDE has asked the courts to declare that these policies violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.