Eleven high school students in the McKeesport Area School District have filed a civil lawsuit against the district, accusing them of repeatedly denying their efforts to form a club called the Black Student Union.
The McKeesport Area School District and Superintendent Mark Holtzman are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the school district violated the students’ First Amendment rights by stopping them from forming the club. The lawsuit additionally claims that the district violated the federal Equal Access Act and argues that student should be able to form such a club “without administrative interference and without discrimination based on the message or purpose of the club.”
According to the lawsuit, the students have been working to form the club since January and want to use it address certain issues, like instruction in black culture and history and the disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions of black students over white students.
“Those of us who want to form the Black Student Union have concerns about the way students of color are treated at McKeesport,” the students said in a statement provided by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We feel that the club, which would be open to all students, will be a space for us to discuss our concerns and then plan to constructively address those concerns in the broader school community, including with adult leaders. Unfortunately, administrators keep shutting us down.”
District Spokesperson Kristen James, School Board President Joseph Lopretto and Vice President Mary Jane Keller provided a statement that showed support for Holtzman, the high school staff and student body.
“Students, without any adult interference from Dr. Holtzman, or other staff members, met on this issue and determined that the need for a McKeesport Student Union was valid, but not one that would cause division amongst their peers,” the statement said.
The students are asking for a ruling requiring the district to approve the operation of the Black Student Union as a formally recognized student club.