Iowa High School Admits It Wrongly Prohibited Students From Creating Pro-Life Club

State   |   Tom Ciesielka   |   May 5, 2015   |   6:09PM   |   Des Moines, IA

The Hampton-Dumont Community School District has acknowledged errors in the application of its school club policies in response to Thomas More Society’s demand letter, which was sent in April on behalf of student Isabell Akers and Students for Life of America. The letter charged that Hampton-Dumont High School had unconstitutionally discriminated against Isabell by denying her equal rights with other clubs when she requested to form a Students for Life club.  The District is now reviewing both the policies themselves and how the policies apply to each club at the school, in order to bring both into full compliance with the law.

“We are encouraged by the District’s response in stepping up to remedy misapplications of the existing policies, which had resulted in pro-life students not being given the same treatment as other student-led clubs,” said Jocelyn Floyd, Associate Counsel for Thomas More Society. “This situation has given the school administrators an opportunity to clarify their District’s protections for broad, vibrant free speech rights for all students at Hampton-Dumont High School, including pro-life students.”

“We are pleased that, just as soon as the District has completed its revisions to the student club policies, the Students for Life club at Hampton-Dumont High School will be permitted the same opportunities as all other student-led clubs to share their opinions and engage in activities on their school campus,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.

Senior Isabell Akers is preparing to graduate and pass the baton to her fellow pro-life students at Hampton-Dumont High School, who are eager to exercise their First Amendment rights with a lively Hampton-Dumont Students for Life club in the Fall.

“The pro-life students are simply asking for equal treatment,” said Floyd. “Here the school is trying to claim that its lesser treatment is justified because Isabell’s club doesn’t tie in with the school’s curriculum—but neither do most of the  school’s other clubs, such as the book club, mock trial, or SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving). By law, Hampton-Dumont High School administrators must give their pro-life students the same opportunities as they give all these other school clubs.”

Isabell Akers, a senior at Hampton-Dumont High School, attempted to start a Students for Life club when she was a sophomore, but she met resistance from school administrators. After a series of delays and denials, the school eventually allowed Isabell’s club to meet periodically in the spring and fall of 2014, but not to advertise or host events. As Isabell will soon graduate, she tried once again in February to acquire school club status for her Students for Life club, to leave an established club in place for future high school leaders. However, the principal once again denied Isabell’s application, claiming that the Students for Life club is too “controversial.”

“I wanted to spend my high school career educating my fellow students on the beauty of human life and providing resources to girls at my school, but instead I have been fighting for my First Amendment rights,” said Isabell Akers, senior at Hampton-Dumont High School. “By forbidding our Students for Life club from putting up posters and not letting us be included in the yearbook with other clubs, the school administration has been treating us like second-class citizens.”

“High school administrators have no right to discriminate against pro-life students,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “On the contrary, high school students have the right to form Students for Life clubs to educate and inform their peers on the tragedy of abortion and to help those facing unplanned, crisis pregnancies. We are thankful for brave students like Isabell, who reached out to Students for Life of America and for our attorneys at the Thomas More Society for their help to make Isabell’s Students for Life group an official, school-based club, with the same rights as her peers.”