Barred for Being Non-Mormon, Girl Says

     BOISE (CN) — An Idaho high school barred a student from running for senior class president because she’s a girl and is not a member of the Mormon Church, and a teacher threatened her with violence for complaining about it, she claims in Federal Court.
     Sierra Norman was a junior at Declo High School, a small rural school of 291 students in the south central agricultural town of Declo — population 335.
     In April 2014 she decided to run for 2014-15 senior class president, but says male administrators prohibited it, saying she was not eligible because they claimed she was a part-time student.
     The Declo High School Constitution requires students to be full-time to “hold a major office.”
     Norman says she was a full-time student, but administrators took it upon themselves to classify her as part-time because she was taking online advanced placement courses.
     “The defendants told Sierra that she couldn’t run because she was not a full-time student — even though she was a full-time student according to the school district’s own records,” according to the 17-page complaint filed Tuesday.
     “The only other student who petitioned to run, even by the defendants’ pretextual logic, wasn’t a full-time student either. Only two things meaningfully distinguished the other student from Sierra, and they were the real basis of the defendants’ decision: the other student was in LDS seminary, and he is male.”
     Mormon (LDS, or Latter-day Saints) students are allowed to leave campus to attend seminary classes, but are considered full-time students, Sierra says in the complaint.
     She says she took her online courses in the high school library, and that even if she did not, school district rules and Idaho law allow her to participate in school activities.
     “The District has policy No. 630 because it must comply with state law, as Idaho is one of several states that provide robust protections to students who choose alternative curricula, such as home schooling or other alternative public school programs,” the complaint states. “Idaho state statute mandates that ‘any student participating in dual enrollment may enter into any program in the public school available to other students.'”
     The unidentified male student was the only candidate on the ballot and won the election.
     Norman says that teachers and students alike turned against her after she complained about discrimination.
     “Sierra suffered,” the complaint states. “She suffered throughout the remainder of her senior year in high school. She was shunned by nearly everyone in school, including nearly every teacher and almost every student. On many days, virtually nobody at school would speak with her at all.”
     Norman says that teacher and basketball coach Val Christensen lashed out after the Magic Valley Times-News printed an article detailing her situation, telling other teachers “in the school during school hours that someone should ‘Ray Rice'” her.
     Rice is a free agent NFL running back formerly with the Baltimore Ravens. In 2014 he was caught on video punching his then fiancée – now his wife – in the face. The blow knocked her unconscious.
     Christensen is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
     Sierra says the school district never notified her of a teacher complaint detailing Christensen’s comments, not did it conduct a “meaningful” investigation of the matter.
     She says she was discriminated against based on ideals commonly held by a local population that is predominantly Mormon.
     “We have received a number of complaints in Idaho that are similar to the issue here and in a lot of cases, people don’t want to pursue litigation for fear of retaliation in standing up for their rights,” said Norman’s attorney, Richard Eppink, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho Foundation.
     Norman, now a college student in Pennsylvania, says it was not the first time she was discriminated against because she is not Mormon. Eppink declined to go into specifics, saying the opportunity to do so could materialize in a jury trial.
     As for Christensen, Eppink said, his client has chosen not to explore litigation for his alleged threatening comment.
     “The complaint focuses on the actions and omissions that were taken by the school district and school officials in regard to the school government,” Eppink said. “There could be another complaint here, but we are focusing on those acts and omissions.”
     Defendants include teacher Jeff Roper, who is “one of the school district employees responsible for the student body government,” and Declo H.S. Principal Roland Bott.
     “Roper has since conceded that he and Bott ‘may have made the wrong decision,” the complaint states, and “Bott has, too, allowed that the decision could have been ‘made in error.’ Yet, it was not until the next school year, five months later and after the ACLU announced that it was investigating, that Bott offered a letter of apology to Sierra.”
     Defendant school Superintendent Galen Smyer was not available for comment after hours Wednesday.
     Norman sued Cassia County Joint School District No. 151, Roper, Bott and Smyer for Title IX discrimination, violation of the Idaho Human Rights Act, and violation of the equal protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. She seeks compensatory, consequential and monetary damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.

%d bloggers like this: