Multnomah County Republican Party Chairman James Buchal on Wednesday sued Portland Public Schools in federal court on behalf of two families who allege the school district violated the First Amendment rights of parents and students.
The suit relies heavily on documents released by PPS following a public records request filed by a plaintiff in late March 2018. The lawsuit argues those records revealed a coordinated effort by Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, the Board, teachers and local anti-gun groups to advocate for stricter gun control with public protests, walkouts and classroom "indoctrination."
In a statement, Buchal said his lawsuit "demonstrates the extraordinary degree to which PPS officials have misused scarce educational resources for narrowly partisan and political objectives."
PPS says that's not true.
"We believe the claims made in the lawsuit are baseless, and it is disappointing that this lawsuit will take time and resources away from providing support to our students," PPS told WW.
In March 2018, Portland students joined peers nationwide to walk out of class to protest Congressional inaction on gun control following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting that killed 17 people.
PPS released a statement regarding the district's position before the March 14 protest that openly acknowledged its support of student-led civil demonstrations: "The District's position is that these are not protests, but organized school activities. These are efforts to anticipate and safely manage the students who wish to show solidarity with students in Florida. The communications do not say that these are statements against gun violence. These are seen as teachable moments for 17 minutes during the school day, with an opportunity for discussion afterward."
The lawsuit Buchal filed is two-pronged.
Buchal claims that the tax money paid by parents to public schools was partly used to fund and support these various protests without parental knowledge and therefore violates the parents' First Amendment rights.
Buchal also argues that "intimidation within the Portland schools also unconstitutionally interferes with the free speech rights of students." The lawsuit details teacher, board and administrator support that enabled students to organize protests.
"In our role as union educators, we cannot legally encourage students to leave campus without permission," the Portland Association of Teachers said in a statement in 2018. "However, in preparing for March 14th, I am sure many of you are already planning to incorporate lessons from U.S. history that illustrate the power of civil disobedience and direct action—especially by young people—in creating lasting social change."
Buchal cited the PAT statement as evidence that PPS was attempting to "[manipulate] and [encourage] PPS children to take part in the planned demonstrations."
The lawsuit also claims that students were used as "proxies" in PPS's alleged efforts to further anti-gun legislation. He cites encouragement by teachers as a way to "groom" and "recruit" students to further "the political goals of the defendants."
Buchal's office alleges that young PPS students were subject to classroom projects that "[pursued] the Leftist agendas of PPS personnel."
In the lawsuit, Buchal claims that anti-gun "indoctrination" within classrooms created an environment where "those few students who express unpopular beliefs on gun control and other controversial issues—and even those who remain silent—have been subjected to severe bullying, intimidation and ostracism."
PPS says they have provided over 16,000 documents to Buchal in response to the records request. The district says those records show the opposite of Buchal's claim. They say teachers were encouraging free speech, not stifling it.
"What those documents demonstrate is the intentional and thoughtful planning that went into ensuring student safety and continued learning while also providing opportunities for students to express their views on a critical social issue and respecting their First Amendment rights," PPS told WW.