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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Middle Schooler’s Church Flyers Upheld by Court

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A federal judge properly ordered Pennsylvania school district to let a sixth grader pass out invites to her church Christmas party, the 3rd Circuit ruled.

In a March 2011 complaint filed through her father Michael Ayers, a student described only as K.A. took issue with a policy in the Pocono Mountain School District.

K.A. said she wanted to give her classmates at Barrett Elementary Center a flyer about the iKidz Rock Night Christmas Party at the Innovation Church. The "just for kids" event slated for Dec. 10, 2010, had promised to offer face-painting, Ping-Pong, foosball, snacks, games and prizes.

Superintendent Dwight Pfenning refusing to approve the flyers, however, pointing to District Policy 913.

In October 2011, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo concluded that the Ayers deserved an injunction under in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District - a landmark 1969 ruling in which the court held that a school had discriminated by suspending students who wore black wristbands to protest the Vietnam War.

Caputo slammed the school for failing to articulate "a specific and significant fear of disruption if K.A. was allowed to pass out her flyers."

A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit affirmed that injunction Tuesday, despite noting that Pocono Mountain School District "may have identified an interesting distinction in this case - that the invitation originated from the Innovation Church, not K.A."

Nevertheless, "it has failed to identify any persuasive authority that states that this distinction changes the analytical framework to forum analysis," Judge Thomas Vanaskie wrote for the panel. "The speaker is still K.A., and not the Innovation Church."

Vanaskie also rejected claims that the District Court abused its discretion.

"The School District's failure in this appeal to identify any disruption caused by K.A.'s invitation, makes it reasonably likely that K.A. will prevail in this litigation," Vanaskie wrote. "The District Court did not err in finding that the first prong of the preliminary injunction test was satisfied."

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