Former students sue Blaine County School District

Two former students have filed a federal lawsuit, saying the Blaine County School District violated their free speech rights.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed Monday, centers on two separate complaints:

A student opinion poll. Dakota King Hutton said she distributed an opinion poll to 30 students and staff members as part of an Advanced Placement government class assignment. The poll asked questions about Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes and her influence over the district. The lawsuit alleges that administrators deleted the poll, citing unspecified state code, saying it amounted to an evaluation of Holmes’ job performance.

“Defendants’ actions were motivated by administrative insecurity and the desire to extinguish the mere possibility of criticism of the school district and its administrators,” the lawsuit says.

“Asking about how well a leader is doing is the kind of question you see in polls all the time and it seemed like a very appropriate subject for a class on government,” Hutton said in a news release issued Wednesday.

A student report. Emily Thayer was the student representative on the Blaine County school board in the fall of 2017. She says she attempted to address a change in the 2018 high school graduation date in her monthly report to trustees — and convey student concerns with the change. She says that section was deleted from her report.

“Ms. Thayer was fearful of truthfully expressing concerns to the Board of Trustees via future reports to the board,” the lawsuit says.

“I do not believe the school district had any interest in listening to or receiving criticisms from students when I was the student board representative,” Thayer said in a news release.

The district’s response. Holmes addressed the lawsuit in an email to staff, and she said the district’s attorneys are reviewing the case.

“The district offered help to both students so that they could express their opinions in the proper manner and they declined,” Holmes wrote. “We value student voice and work hard to make sure students have the appropriate means to express their opinions.”

Holmes and seven other district employees have been named as defendants.

Additional coverage from the Idaho Mountain Express.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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