Group sues Minnesota middle school for violating free speech rights of conservative student

Marshall School District employees, volunteers, parents, and students have banded together to sue the district and Marshall Middle School's principal.

Flickr/American Life League

A complaint filed in April of 2021 is still waiting for a court date in Marshall, Minnesota. The complaint was filed by Marshall Concerned Citizens, who allege that a student’s right to free speech was violated last year when his petition to remove an LGBTQ+ flag at the school was confiscated by administration. 

In January of 2020, Marshall Middle School displayed an LGBTQ+ pride flag as part of an inclusion project. The project was created to “help connect students, and provide visible identifiers … [to] make everyone feel welcomed and supported.” 

At the February 18 Marshall School Board meeting, an eighth-grade student expressed that he “tried to present an opposing viewpoint in relation to the one lifestyle flag hanging in the school cafeteria” by creating a petition for its removal.

His petition was quickly “taken away by a teacher and given to the principal.” On three occasions, the student asked for his petition back and never received it. 

Following this incident, the student decided to create flags that represent him and his friends so they could “feel included in [their] school.” However, the flags they displayed on their lockers were removed, and the student was told the flags were “a danger to [him] and other students in the school.”

Now, Marshall School District employees, volunteers, parents, and students have banded together as “Marshall Concerned Citizens” to sue the district and Marshall Middle School’s principal, Mary Kay Thomas. The group cites constitutional rights being infringed upon “by the School District’s policies restricting counter speech, notably here, on non-curriculum cultural issues of public concern or importance.”

The lawsuit states that the student’s right to petition is covered under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution: “The word ‘petition’ refers to a written request for a school official or officials to ‘take down [the] LGBT flag,’” and it “does not direct others, such as students, teachers, or staff of the Marshall Middle School, or anyone else outside the school building to take action.”

The school district had until June 7 to file their responses to the formal complaint, but that deadline was extended to July 12.


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Megan Olson
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Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.