Attorneys from the Thomas More Society have sent a demand letter to administrators at Rio Rancho Middle School in the Albuquerque suburb of Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The letter charges that the school’s denial of a student pro-life group is unconstitutional and must be reversed.
Last school year, student Dylan Fredette tried unsuccessfully tried to start a Students for Life group at Rio Rancho Middle School. The school’s principal, Linda Kitts, allegedly denied repeated requests by the then 8th grader, to start a pro-life club. Kitts claimed no memory of a November 2017 conversation in which she told Dylan she could not allow a pro-life club because it would too controversial and would not be “fair” to people who are “on the other side of the issue.” In March 2018, Dylan reiterated his request for permission to start Phoenixes for Life, providing Kitts with a copy of the proposed club’s constitution and advising her that he had found a teacher willing to act as the new club’s faculty advisor. He never received a response.
Dylan’s brother, Isaiah Fredette is now a 7th grader at Rio Rancho Middle School. Isaiah is committed to starting the pro-life club that his older sibling was denied the opportunity to form. The demand letter sent to
Kitts and Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Dr. V. Sue Cleveland, includes a formal request that Isaiah be allowed to establish a non-curriculum pro-life club at the junior high school.
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Joan Mannix explained the problem. “Rio Rancho Middle School currently allows various non-curriculum clubs, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club, Pay It Forward Club, and Chess Club. Kitts’ only explanation to Dylan regarding her refusal to allow the club was that the group’s message would not be too controversial and not ‘fair.’ That basis for denial violates Dylan Fredette’s rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Rio Rancho Public Schools’ own policies.” Mannix continued, “Should the school deny Isaiah Fredette’s renewed request for permission to start Phoenixes for Life, that would similarly violate his constitutionally guaranteed liberties.”
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Mannix stated, “It is well established that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate.” Moreover, she noted that Rio Rancho Public Schools’ own policy provides: “Education is founded on the process of inquiry and analysis, of acquiring and imparting knowledge, and of exchanging ideas. Therefore, students have the right to express opinions, to take stands, and to support causes, publicly and privately.”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, stated, “We have enjoyed many years of working with the Thomas More Society fighting this type of discrimination in schools across the nation. It is shameful that Rio Rancho Middle School, a taxpayer-funded school, has been discriminating against pro-life students for almost a full year now. The school has appallingly and disgustingly continued to throw up illegal obstacles in the way of students who want to start a group to reach out to their peers and educate them about the injustice of abortion. We strongly support the students who are fighting against their own school for their basic free-speech rights.” Hawkins remarked that the school administrators appear to be either “willfully ignorant or deliberately anti-free speech against pro-life students.”
Read the September 18, 2018 demand letter sent by the Thomas More Society to Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Dr. V. Sue Cleveland and Rio Rancho Middle School Principal Lynda Kitts here [ https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Cleveland-Kitts-Letter-Re-RRMS-Pro-Life-Club.pdf]