Mountains

Law firm urges Dolores school district to rescind flag ban

By Shannon Livick
Dolores Star Editor

A Denver-based law firm sent out an eight-page letter Wednesday urging the Dolores School District to rescind its "Free Speech Ban."

The legal demand stems from a December decision by the school administration to ban "symbols of hate" following a hateful display left on a teacher's desk by a student.

On Dec. 13, Principal Brandon Thurston sent out a school-wide email that stated, "The Dolores Schools are banning all symbols of hate including, but not limited to, Black Power Fist, Confederate Flag, Iron Cross, Swastika and others."

The eight-page letter sent out to the school board was written and signed by Mari Newman of the Killmer, Lane and Newman law office, a civil rights law firm.

"This ban and its broad-sweeping effects are in clear violation of the First Amendment and must be rescinded," the letter said.

Since the ban, the letter stated, there has been a climate of "chilled silence" at the schools.

In addition, Newman claims members of the community have been retaliated against for speaking up.

The head high school football coach was not rehired after speaking out against the ban, the letter states.

A preschool employee was told her family were "guests" in the district after speaking out.

"The intended message was clear: keep quiet to keep your job," the letter states.

Nancy Nelligan, a parent of a Dolores High School student and who is married to William Nelligan, who has often spoke up about the ban, was told she was no longer needed as the board recorder, a job during which she would keep records and minutes for the meetings.

The letter also claimed that Nelligan's daughter was targeted. She is a senior, captain of the knowledge bowl team, National Honor Society member and president of the Dolores FFA, just to name a few. She needed a letter for a scholarship from the principal and that letter was not written for her.

"The School Administration's retaliation against community members for expressing their opposition to the Schools' Free Speech Ban is illegal and will not be tolerated," the letter states.

The firm urged that the school district, to first, rescind the ban and to provide training for students regarding their civil rights in an educational setting and add a student bill of rights to the student handbook.

In addition, Newman demanded that the school district "cease all retaliation against students, parents and guardians and faculty and staff who have spoken out against the free speech ban."

Newman, who stated that the law firm is representing 50 families and over 100 students, also said that the district has been retaliating and censoring students even further.

"Apparently unsatisfied that the ban alone was sufficient to quell student speech, the Dolores Schools went even further and banned students from even talking about or protesting the ban. The student newspaper has been completely censored from publishing an editorial or even a student letter to the editor about the incident and the ban, and it has now been eliminated altogether. Students were prohibited from and threatened with discipline for circulating a petition protesting the ban. Any and all discussion on the topic, whether through silent protest or engagement in classroom discussion, has also been banned," Newman wrote.

The letter also said a student was sent home because a T-shirt had the word "rebel" on it.

"Dolores School administrators touted the new ban as an effort to create an open and tolerant school environment, but instead of leaving students feeling safe and accepted, the ban has taught the students that their opinions, concerns, and political beliefs are not valued and will not be tolerated by the school. This ban and its broad-sweeping effects are in clear violation of the First Amendment and must be rescinded," the letter stated.

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