While this semester has seen three different schools and districts receive legal demand letters for refusing to acknowledge the free speech rights of high school students, sometimes problems can be overcome without resorting to demand letters.
This was the case in Madera, California, where, after initial reservations over two Students for Life clubs, due to their “controversial” and “political” nature, Madera Unified School District has approved the pro-life students’ applications, while the students have generated widespread support among their peers, gathering 337 signatures in favor of the Students for Life clubs.
“We applaud Jorge for his courageous stance in starting Students for Life clubs at not just one, but two high schools in Madera,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “We’re glad that the high school administrators have finally recognized that these pro-life students’ enthusiasm should not be censored but rather encouraged.”
In February 2015, Jorge Mendoza, a senior at Madera South High School, submitted the necessary application to start a Students for Life club at his school in conjunction with a sister club at neighboring Madera High School. Even though the schools only require 30 student signatures to start a club, Jorge and his friends procured 137 signatures from Madera High School students and 200 at Madera South.
Madera’s high schools already included a Christian group and gay-straight alliance, but school administrators raised concerns over the pro-life clubs, because of their “political” and “controversial” nature.
“We’re so excited for the opportunity to educate our peers on the amazing gift of life at all stages,” said Jorge Mendoza, senior at Madera South High School. “The students’ positive response to the pro-life message has been overwhelming, and now that our Students for Life clubs have been approved, we look forward to continuing to spread this message of truth and hope, as well as offering support to our classmates who might face crisis pregnancies.”
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Jorge reached out to Students for Life of America (SFLA), who works with over 830 high school and college groups nationally. SFLA then contacted their law firm, the Thomas More Society, which wrote to school officials to inform them that their concerns were not legally acceptable grounds for denying the Students for Life clubs, and that the students have a right to proclaim their pro-life message at their schools, under both the First Amendment and federal law.
“When students request to form a pro-life club, school officials are often skittish,” said Jocelyn Floyd, Thomas More Society Associate Counsel. “But ‘controversial’ or ‘political’ are not legitimate grounds for denying a student club. We’re here to help educate administrators that pro-life high-schoolers have the same right to form clubs and speak their message as their fellow students. We’re glad that the administrators at Madera have recognized these students’ rights and approved the Students for Life clubs.”
At a recent board meeting, upon the recommendation of the superintendent, the school board officially approved the Students for Life clubs at Madera South High School. Madera High School’s group is pending approval through the formal application process at the school, but has been assured approval by the board once the application has been processed. Over 130 students participated in the first meeting at Madera South, and the students are in the process of conducting a “baby bottle drive” to collect change for a pregnancy resource center in their area.