Two Minnesotans banned from school district after asking about sexual abuse scandal

In "an obscene abuse of power," a school district trespassed a woman who asked a principal a question he apparently didn't want to answer about sexual abuse allegations in his school.

Students and parents staged a walkout at Zimmerman Middle-High School on Nov. 5. (Sarah Newcomb/Facebook)

A Minnesota school district banned parents and residents from school grounds for one year after they complained about an alleged sexual abuser in the building with their children. Now a local legal nonprofit says it will pursue action unless the district reverses this decision.

Maria Isabel Harju, a resident, and Cassandra Bonine, a parent, were both banned from school property after attempting to speak out at a school board meeting about how students felt uncomfortable with an accused sexual deviant, who is apparently male, attending class at their high school. Although the accused student has not been convicted, students are uncomfortable enough with his presence that they staged a walkout, demanding his removal while court proceedings are ongoing.

Neither Harju nor Bonine were allowed to speak about their take on this issue at a school board meeting they attended earlier this month.

The school district, ISD 728, doesn’t livestream the public comment portion of its school board meetings. However, a video of the Nov. 8 meeting posted on Facebook shows parents voicing their anger at the school board after they were excluded from the public forum.

Bonine said she was able to exchange words with Zimmerman High School Principal Marco Voce outside the room where the meeting was being held.

Bonine “asked him [Voce] if he had children,” she recalled to the Daily Mail. “What if it were your daughters? How would you feel in this situation?” she inquired.

In response, she said she got a knock on her door a few days later as police handed her a trespass notification that bans her from the district office and Zimmerman Middle/High School.

“This trespass notice is given due to your verbal altercation with Principal Marco Voce, which you instigated, was witnessed by others and was acknowledged on social media,” the notice reads.

The notice is so restrictive that Bonine isn’t even allowed to pick her child up from class.

“I can’t drop her [the student] off. I can’t pick her up. I can’t attend her volleyball games. I can’t go to her conferences. If she’s sick, I can’t go there. If she’s injured, I can’t go there,” the mother said. She has now transferred her child to a different school district.

Harju has also received a trespass notice and been banned from school board meetings for one year. She was even escorted out of the meeting she attempted to speak at by law enforcement.

These two women, along with another who wanted to speak on her own child’s experiences with physical assault in the schools, are now represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) and are prepared to take legal action against the district.

“Forcing a parent out of School Board meetings and even from visiting her daughter’s school because of an emotional discussion with the principal is an obscene abuse of power,” the law center observes in a letter to Superintendent Dr. Daniel Bittman and members of the school board. 

Left: Superintendent Dan Bittman (ISD 728/YouTube). Right: Principal Marco Voce (ISD 728/YouTube).

“The trespass notices are a clear abuse of the Minnesota trespass statute … which cannot be applied to individuals in this manner for such trivial reasons,” lawyer James Dickey writes.

The center goes on to explain caselaw and various statutes that prohibit “viewpoint discrimination” — rules enforced by government institutions designed to suppress individuals wanting to express a certain sentiment. The school district apparently engaged in viewpoint discrimination by disallowing parents to voice their concerns about a potential sexual abuser in the building with their children.

“The District trampled on its residents and taxpayers’ First Amendment rights when it prohibited our clients from discussing the School Board’s failure to address sexual assault in its classrooms,” the letter reads.

“The School District has until November 26, 2021 to rescind the trespass notices and confirm in writing that it allows public comment on the District’s treatment of sexual assault allegations on its campuses,” the letter concludes. “Absent this action, our clients have authorized us to bring a federal lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order to gain the District’s immediate compliance.”

Alpha News reached out to the district for comment but did not receive a response.