First Amendment Case Against School District Resolved

Depoali Middle School
Image: WCSD

The Washoe County School District and a plaintiff in middle school recently reached a resolution over a First Amendment issue that stemmed from T-shirts depicting weapons.

The case arose when the Depoali Middle School student wore a Firearms Policy Coalition t-shirt to school. A teacher, following an outdated dress code, instructed the student to cover the shirt, according to the suit.

The incident was reportedly not brought to a school site administrator’s attention, which is the district’s first step in filing a grievance or public complaint:

The federal complaint against the district and principal Joye Ancina alleged the district violated the child’s First Amendment rights. The district was unaware of the incident at Depoali until the suit was filed.

When learning of the suit, the district allowed the student to wear his shirt, then updated and clarified language in its dress code. Ancina was voluntarily removed from the lawsuit by the plaintiff, who acknowledged she had no involvement in the incident.

The remainder of the case was resolved through a stipulated judgment and dismissal of the district, which paid a portion of the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

Neil Rombardo
Neil Rombardo. Image: WCSD

“We believe that Washoe County School District’s immediate corrective response once it received notice of the First Amendment concern reflects its ongoing commitment to foster an educational environment that respects the cultural diversity of the various communities within the district,” Neil Rombardo, district general counsel, said in a statement. “Washoe County School District and its staff understand the importance of individual student expression, and we encourage families to communicate with their school administration if they believe staff has infringed on those rights.”

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The name of the student and additional details of the allegations that could identify the child will not be discussed publicly based on federal student privacy laws.

“Our clients are pleased with Washoe County School District’s quick response to remedy the issues in our complaint,” plaintiff attorney Steve Duvernay said in a statement. “The resolution of this matter evidences Washoe County School District’s commitment to support the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and expression for all members of its community.”

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Carla O'Day
About Carla O'Day 462 Articles
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.