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Students' lawsuit in Edina highlights political-club tensions

Edina High School Young Conservatives Club president Nick Spades
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Edina High School Young Conservatives Club president Nick Spades speaking at Thursday's press conference.

Gathered outside at a park adjacent to Creek Valley Elementary School in Edina last Thursday afternoon, a group of students and adults huddled together before a handful of news cameras and microphones.

Corralling everyone who’d shown up in support of the high school’s now defunct conservative student club for a pep talk before the press conference, attorney Erick Kaardal began his remarks to the American-flag-clad group with an apology. Earlier that day, they had planned on delivering remarks in front of the high school. But the school district’s attorney got wind of their plans and sent out a cautionary letter.

“We got a really tough, stirring letter from the school attorney, saying if we went on to the school property and criticized their policies regarding the American flag, we would get arrested for trespassing,” Kaardal said, adding this is the sort of treatment conservative club members face on a daily basis. “What this is, is it’s another outrage. It’s an outrage that students can’t access the classrooms for fundraising like all the other clubs.”

In particular, he singled out the Young Liberals Club as an example of another student group not facing access issues at the school.

“The point is: You adults have now felt what discrimination is at Edina Public Schools,” he continued. “If you’re a conservative, or you support a conservative cause, or you support the flag, or you support America or the United States — no access!”

Claim of wrongful termination

Kaardal is representing five members of the Young Conservatives Group, along with their parents, who have filed a lawsuit against the high school and the district — as well as Superintendent John Schultz and High School Principal Andrew Beaton. They filed the lawsuit in federal Minnesota district court on Thursday, claiming the club was wrongfully terminated.

The school’s termination of the group, the lawsuit claims, has “chilled the speech of conservative students,” as evidenced by the fact that membership dwindled from over 100 to just the five now involved in the lawsuit.

Erick Kaardal
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Erick Kaardal

Tensions surrounding this student group date back further — as illustrated by one club member’s reports of being harassed in 2016 by peers at the high school for wearing a Trump shirt. But things came to a head this fall when a handful of students sat in protest during a Veterans Day assembly last month and club members took to social media to express their disapproval of the protesters’ actions. Things quickly devolved into a mess of politically and racially charged grievances waged by club members and students who opposed the club. That’s when school administrators intervened.

Now that Edina administrators are caught up in a lawsuit, their counterparts in other districts that may recognize politically aligned student groups — or that may be bracing for these sorts of student groups to take root — are likely keeping a close eye on how things unfold.

“I don’t know any administrators are out there wishing we had more political clubs, because it’s just so messy right now,” said David Adney, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals. “Good administrators allow for some kind of structure. But you still have to able to control that it’s of more value than it is destructive. It’s not about political stances. But if it crosses a line where people are no longer civil, or it’s disrespectful, the school can’t be attached to that. We need to find better ways.”

Creating space for civil discourse

In all 42 of his years as an educator in Minnesota — 22 as a teacher, then as an administrator, most recently as the Minnetonka High School principal — Adney says he can only recall a couple of high schools having conservative or liberal student groups. And in most cases, when they did crop up, they were more so “momentary” — in response to a spike in student interest during an election year.

The more commonplace alternative, he suspects, is something like a debate club or a club extension of a political science class — a more structured setting, guided by a teacher, in which students are encouraged to not only express their opinions, but also back them up with evidence and learn to argue respectfully.

Attorney Erick Kaardal
MinnPost photo by Erin Hinrichs
Attorney Erick Kaardal speaking at Thursday's press conference with the Edina High School Young Conservatives Club.

Having a teacher involved in supervising the student group helps ensure the club experience “becomes a package, rather than a very narrow theme,” he said. Teachers are trained at orchestrating discussions so students learn to listen to opposing viewpoints and offer counterpoints he added, noting they often have the “intellectual humility” needed to drive politically charged conversations in a constructive direction.

Without these sorts of parameters — especially given today’s intense political climate — he’s hesitant to encourage the formulation of any politically aligned student groups that are allowed to operate in isolation of opposing viewpoints.

'We want civil conversations'

“If you look at who kids follow — they follow entertainment stars, athletes and, to some degree, politicians — every day there’s something highlighted that’s not pulling people together. It’s isolating. It’s fingerpointing. That’s just what the common diet is,” he said.

“I know adults who are overwhelmed by this, who just can’t even watch TV or listen to the news anymore. So think of a 17- or 18-year-old that’s just coming of age and is starting to reason through some of these things that they feel very strongly about. This is where we need to have guidance. That’s why people that come in and drop these bombs and walk away, they’ve not done a service. They haven’t done the heavy lifting. The teachers are the ones —  and the parents and the community — who now are forced to do the heavy lifting, because we want civil conversations.”

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Comments (52)

David Adney's comments

are very well expressed and sound. The foundation of a democratic society requires that citizens have the capacity to engage in sound moral reasoning and critical thought. Young Liberals will advance intuitive positions but need guidance to develop analytical foundation and nuance. Young Conservatives will be fed simplistic postulates that need to be tested and adjusted to achieve any coherence in the real world. Without non-ideological guidance in how to think, these clubs are just waving flags and instilling clan-based animosity.

Not...

Not if you are up against the school being hostile to one group but not another. Schools need to encourage fairness.
This type of behavior has become the norm at numerous colleges and universities. Now it is showing up in high schools.

Totally agree with you

For the school to ban the young conservatives club while still allowing the young liberals club is completely unfair. (By the way my leanings are far from conservative, I am near as liberal as you can get, at least in most cases). But this is just wrong.

What was the school thinking??

Sure would like to see a follow-up story on this with a lot more details.

Wrong again

Do you know what these YCC kids did? Do you have any idea what you are talking about? The school does not want a group of kids who post racist stuff about other students forming a group in order to be jerks to other kids.

Racist stuff

posted? sorry, did I miss that evidence?

Free speech but

From what i read, the Young Conservative club members, on social media, criticized (to put it lightly) other students. You can't do that in a school setting. If you want you can raise the flag, sing songs whatever, but you cannot target other students.

The First Amendment is more restrictive for school settings giving school administrators far more leeway. IMO the court will toss this lawsuit.

But then what about the school assembly protest

Then using your argument, shouldn't the students who sat down at the assembly and very loudly protested during the playing of the National Anthem and taps by the Veteran's groups, not been allowed to do that? You may not like the content of the online posts by the YCC, most of us don't, but they have the right to say it.

They sat down...

The protesters sat down... quietly. They did not disrupt the ceremony.

You didn't watch the video well enough then

The video was shot from the far side of the auditorium, way up in the stands.
On the video, the protesters continue talking and it is so loud you can hear it very clearly on the tape.
Can you imagine how loud it was right next to where they were sitting down.
While the ceremony went on in a very distracted way, the ceremony was clearly being aurally disrupted. And if they have the first amendment right to do that, then there should an equal right to criticize the protest.

Three things

Regardless of how "disruptive" the protest may or may not have been, it doesn't justify the attacks the conservative club launched. Again, conservative champions of morality only reveal their own moral vacancy when they point to someone else's behavior rather than accept responsibility for their own.

However disruptive or not the protest was or wasn't, it's up to the school officials who were actually there to discipline students. Neither the conservative club or any other students or parents can take on that role.

The video isn't a tape, it's a digital cell phone recording. That video doesn't necessarily reveal the true experience because sound can be manipulated digitally. This is why we don't get to second guess those who were actually there.

If the school officials were neutral that would be helpful

Its hard to say that the comments made by the club were 'attacking' without knowing the full course of the comments made back and forth. The lawsuit shows that there is a clear lack of confidence in the school official's neutrality especially in light of the evidence shown by the recent report by the Center for the American Experiment. And while the recording of the event is indeed digitally captured, there's pretty clear proof that the sound wasn't digitally altered, as you wrongly allege, because if the sound of the protesters voices were in some way altered or increased, then the music would have been louder as well...and it wasn't.

All the lawsuit shows us...

Is that there's yet another lawyer out there looking for publicity. The CAE is a hack anti-think tank (sic) with a documented history of providing misleading and erroneous information contained in garbage "reports".

You're expertise regarding sound editing is as dubious as the chain of custody regarding the video. However I'm not alleging anything, I'm simply observing the fact that the video doesn't necessarily prove anything. And regardless, one instance of bad behavior could not justify another.

It's simply disingenuous to claim that we have all the evidence we need to punish "liberal" students but we have no idea whether or not "conservative" students did anything wrong. It's important to remember that there may well be some privacy laws preventing administrators from sharing everything they know, or based their decision on.

Riiiiight

If the school was only neutral as the Center for the American Experiment... then we'd have some justice in this world.

Just to Clarify

Were these the postings of individual student members of the club, or were they done on, say, the club's social media site? I can see how a distinction could be drawn.

perhaps,...

it's not about liberal versus conservative but about behavior by club members. That makes more sense than just a political bias but I thought the story lacked detail in that area.

What are the facts?

When one group displays blatantly racist behavior toward a certain population at the school, the will not be dealt with fairly. Why should they be? These kids posted nasty messages about other kids at their school on a school chat board. No the should not be treated fairly.

“When one group displays

“When one group displays blatantly racist behavior…” So what was that behavior?

from what little I read...

the members of this club engaged in some direct personal attacks regarding that Veteran's Day protest.

I am a Viet Nam veteran and I think as misguided as that war was one thing I was fighting for was the right of peaceful protesters to sit during the national anthem. Like the unforgettable athletes at the 1968 Olympics who raised their fists in protest during the anthem, a silent visual protest can have a greater impact than all the yelling you can muster.

I noticed that conservative club appears to be entirely white. I am white. In fact when I graduated from Edina in 1966 every student was white. During those years the only black person I knew of who lived in Edina was Vic Power, Twins first baseman who lived at the end of a dead end road next to the 169/100 cloverleaf. I'm guess that was the only house in Edina that could be sold to a Black family in those years of housing discrimination.

It seems to me that conservative complaints of being discriminated against only work when they narrow the window down to today, ignoring American history, and to this particular school, ignoring all that is happening in America today. The article references their support for Trump who most people would consider to be a racist and bigot among his many faults. I find their complaints of unfairness suspect.

“the members of this club

“the members of this club engaged in some direct personal attacks regarding that Veteran's Day protest.” Can you please provide the source of this information?

“one thing I was fighting for was the right of peaceful protesters to sit during the national anthem.” Yes, you are correct. But what about right to disagree with those who sit?

Civil conversations

Here is the problem. We have a conservative President. There is nothing Civil about him. He is a bully, a hater and very vindictive. He is constantly lying, biut claiming to be truthful and suggests that everyone who disagreees with him is wrong to do so and needs to be punished. His favorite method is starting a lawsuit.

In Edina, the recent school board race was made controversial and partisan by Karen Kerstdn's false narrative about how hissed teachers were and how the acceptance of low income students from outside the district was compromising the quality of Edina. To the contrary, on virtually every indicator Edina is among the best of Minnesota schools.

Edina students have distorically called cake eaters. The once traditional rivalry with Richfield was marred by racially motivated taunts, the same sort of things some conservative students have directed at their classmates for being poor, fat, dumb and gay - particularly gay.

I cannot speak about the club, but apparently there is plenty of bullying hate speech between students, which by the way is an offense under the code of student conduct.

Wearing a Trump shirt can be viewed as a form of expression of white supremacy. Examine the main photo from the group - no visible diversity. There may be individual minority students who are conservative, but they are not represented.

So does this group look like it wants civil discourse? I am not sure. A lawsuit is hardly civil,

I remember when my kids were in school how parents responded the day of the Erin's riot, that school day a group of student vandalized the school near the end of the year. Several were suspended and their parents didn't take it well. Brought a lawsuit, obviously something school districts don't need to waste money on.

But in this case and that, schools need to protect their educational programs frrom
those parents who have unrealistic expectations about their right to control how public schools operate.

“Wearing a Trump shirt can be

“Wearing a Trump shirt can be viewed as a form of expression of white supremacy” Can wearing a red t-shirt be viewed as a form of expression of communist views? What if it has Che Guevara on it?

“Examine the main photo from the group - no visible diversity… So does this group look like it wants civil discourse? I am not sure.” So just because these people are white you assume that they don’t want a civil discourse? Isn’t it racist?

“But in this case and that, schools need to protect their educational programs from
those parents who have unrealistic expectations about their right to control how public schools operate.” Would you say the same if the schools were teaching something you disagree with?

Makes sense

Mr. Adney makes a lot of sense. In today's poisoned political climate, we need educators to help our children at least learn how to debate and address issues in a structured environment before forming factions. Simply banning all student "political clubs" from using school property seems alike a sensible way of dealing with this. That and maybe offering civics classes, which I hear many schools no longer do. Unless there's more to the facts than are in this article, Edina's going to have hard time explaining why the conservative club must go but the liberal club does not.

actually it's quite easy to explain

I'm surprised so many adults around here are so intellectually dense. This club wasn't "banned" because they're conservative, so comparing them to a "liberal" club is facile. They were banned because their behavior was a violation of community standards and expectations. If a "liberal" club behaved the same way, they'd be banned for the same reason.

This idea that racists are entitled to be abusive and aggressive is simply an expression of privilege and entitlement. A public school is not required to tolerate toxic behavior, on the contrary decades of court decisions have established that public school officials have a duty to limit toxic student behavior and provide a safe learning environment.

Decades of court decisions have also ruled that public schools cannot compel or require that students demonstrate allegiance to the nation or any particular religion, students have a Constitutional right to sit out civic and religious ceremony's.

No one is required to tolerate conservative abuse simply because those conservatives have no viable concept of civility or Constitutional rights. If you want to have a club that's sanctioned by the school, you have to follow the school's rules, and it's YOUR responsibility to know what the rules are.

where are your facts??

you are blind to half the story without solid facts to support your opinion. The liberal club was worse.

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2017/11/the-shame-of-americas-publ...

Not blind, just discerning

I don't get my "facts" from a hack blogger.

Let me define hack for you

Someone who doesn't tell you what you want to hear.

Or then again...

it's someone who does.

Good One!

Citing PowerLine as the source of facts always brings a chuckle. Calling them "solid" facts almost got a spit-take from me.

They are hardly what you might call an unbiased source for any information.

Always playing the victim

So let me get this straight: wealthy overwhelmingly white conservative kids in Edina in the year 2017 are claiming "discrimination?"

I have a feeling none of these kids has ever seen a moment of the vicious and very real discrimination that lays just outside their cozy enclave. Go gin up a fake controversy somewhere else, children are trying to learn.

“none of these kids has ever

“none of these kids has ever seen a moment of the vicious and very real discrimination that lays just outside their cozy enclave” Will you please explain what you mean?

It's pretty self-explanatory.

They live a privileged life in a protected environment. They don't face the ugliness of being discriminated for their race or ethnicity.

I don’t understand why any

I don’t understand why any actual conservative— who can afford to hire an attorney— would send their kids to government schools which have been— for some time— openly hostile to conservatives. Pull the kids out. It’s not a fight worth fighting.

I wonder why this piece

I wonder why this piece didn’t get more details of what the reason for club’s termination was (according to school) and what happened prior to termination according to lawsuit. That would be helpful to form an opinion.

I'm with ILya ...

It would have been nice to know what a school sanctioned club actually is and how they got permission to be a club, and what the rules for such clubs are. It would also be nice to know exactly what behavior it was that caused the termination. I'm sure these rules are codified in Edina.

There's kind of this weird journalistic assumption that the lawsuit is the story, not the toxic behavior, and you can cover the lawsuit without discussing the toxic behavior. What's up with that?

It's good that you agree with

It's good that you agree with my request for facts because it looks like we do not have them. So why do you assume that their behavior was “toxic?”

My assumptions

That local journalists haven't provided many details doesn't mean there are no details. School officials shut down the club because of it's toxic behavior, the fact that I may not know exactly what that behavior was doesn't mean it wasn't toxic or that the school was wrong.

Furthermore, no one is disputing the toxic conservative club behavior, they just keep pointing to other student's behavior. The lawyer representing the conservative isn't arguing that they didn't do the things they were banned for doing, he's arguing that they had a right to do them and the school was wrong to ban them.

The toxic nature of the behavior isn't really in dispute, but I think it should be a more central focus of the story.

“School officials shut down

“School officials shut down the club because of it's toxic behavior” That is what the school said but since we don’t know what it was, we don’t know that the school’s explanation is valid. The school may be right or wrong; we will not know until we know the exact transgression of the YCC.

“no one is disputing the toxic conservative club behavior” Yes they do. If anything, behavior was not by the club but by certain members, but again, I still don’t know what that behavior was so I can’t make my mind on this. Do you know specifically what they did?

Ilya...

If you don't know that they shut it down for reasons they claim to have shut it down.. then you don't know they shut it down for any other reason either. You can't say you don't know... but you know. And you can't claim that your ignorance PROVES any alternative theory.

Correct, I don’t know either

Correct, I don’t know either way… and neither do you. But I said that I didn’t know and asked for more information before making any assumptions… you asked for more information and yet acted like you knew by using the word “toxic.” .

It's also funny...

When toxic conservatives who are constantly attacking those around them complain about the "hostile" environment they're forced to live in. The idea that living with other people who don't look, feel, worship, or dress the way you do... makes you a "victim" of oppression is just one of many facile expressions of white privilege in America.

Just a small grammatical correction.

The article concerns Conservatives, not conservatives. Those who are "conservatives" - who wish to preserve existing democratic norms and institutions and make gradual progress in strengthening them - are on the left. Those who are "Conservatives" are authoritarians who undermine norms and institutions so that all can be decided by power. We should resist mindlessly applying the comforting appellation of "conservative" to those whose credo is destruction.

I am confused: Are you saying

I am confused: Are you saying that liberals are actually conservatives? Then what about Progressives?

Yes, progressives are conservatives.

They seek to conserve the norms and institutions of democracy as they gradually form, and build gradually on them. They recognize the fragility of such norms and institutions and treat them with utmost care, unlike the Right who swings at them with sledgehammers for a moment's tactical gain, as a glance at any newspaper, on any day, amply demonstrates.

You are confusing liberalism and leftism. Left and right reference a continuum representing the distribution of political and economic power, with communism (not Communism) at the far left and, at the far Right, all power in the hands of one individual. Liberalism is not a left stance, it is a Right stance in that it doesn't question the existing political and economic structures that concentrate power in fewer hands over time, but simply seeks to ameliorate the consequences through redistributionism. In fact, because authoritarianism desublimates and mobilizes underlying existential fears, present-day Conservatives in fact are not conservative but the very opposite, nihilist.

I am afraid you are talking

I am afraid you are talking about liberalism of the early last century. Progressives are called progressives because they want to reform the society, and reform it quickly. On the other hand, they do not care for current institutions and norms. Just think of ignoring traditional families, defensible borders, and the Constitution…And they are the ones who want to give government more and more power which is obviously a step toward authoritarianism.

This is a very inadequate article

This article offers no details about what the conservative group has done; ditto re the liberal group. Might there be a link to previous articles (in MinnPost or elsewhere)?

Half the article deals with Adney and his comments. This is easy journalism. Make a phone call and quote the person extensively.

This article, in its simplicity, is embarrassing to me as a long-time professional journalist. This is the first item by Erin Hinrichs that I've read. I hope some of her other articles display more research, intelligence and sophistication.

Are we becoming Plano, TX?

I’ve lived in Plano, the most frequently sued school district in the country. They have had to restrict essentially all non-sports or academic based clubs and activities because of parents and outside legal groups. Edina is s great district, but uncivil actions like this lawsuit will take a toll. It is not the kids fault. It is the parents who are adding fuel to this fire by supporting this lawsuit rather then entering into a serious dialogue. Who are these grandstanding destructive parents? They should be ashamed.

Its sad that real discourse has been destroyed in this country

But too many people, including some of the frequent commentators on this thread, have closed minds and refuse to listen to anything because they've already made up their mind and they are right, no matter what. The lawsuit is not an uncivil action considered what the administration did. It started with an uncivil protest that was disruptive. Disruptive protests are going to met with criticism which apparently is not okay with the protesters. My point all along has been that just as the First Amendment protects the right to protest, it also protects the right to disagree with and criticize the protest. In this case, the criticism of the protest quickly denigrated, which is sad, but also may not have happened had the protest not been so disruptive in the first place.

Circular reasoning and racism are not civil discourse

There's nothing civil about racism and intolerance. The idea that demonstrators are responsible for degenerate reactions of conservatives is just circular reasoning that exonerates the group you sympathize with: "If they hadn't been demonstrating no one would have driven a car into them". Whatever.

Again, all this whining about having to tolerate people with different points of view is just an expression of privilege. Conservatives in this country abandoned the practice of "real" discourse in this country decades ago. Now they want to debate game, and obscure, and dictate speech and information. If you think FOX news, Limbaugh, Savage, O'Reilly, Jason Lewis, and Donald Trump represent "real" discourse you are NOT the responsible discourse guy in the room.

Knowledge of First Amendment in Schools would help

A simple fact. Students simply don't have unrestricted First Amendment rights in high schools. That has been validated by the Supreme Court multiple times. Schools are different in this manner. Its not a matter of making up ones mind. Its the law. If one group of students has been disruptive, then its up to the school administration, not another school group to enforce or target those students. Criticism / targeting of other students is simply not permitted. The conservative club, simply did not have that right.

Are we missing an obvious course of action?

This seems like a teachable moment for students--the kind that every teacher dreams of. And, Edina High School COULD act on these ideas. There has not been one club or group that I've belonged to that didn't bring in experts and practitioners to discuss whatever actions we were contemplating--pros and cons. Why can't Edina High School pay the speech and communication teacher(s) to be available to this club a few hours a year (and for 20 minutes of the club's meeting time) to discuss constructive debate. If the school can't pay or can't be involved, then offer a list of experts who will share what they know for free. The club can contact them independently. Teach students how to construct a logical, factual argument that doesn't resort to personal attacks, the bottom rung in a civil discussion? Teach them how to tailor their argument for an audience that agrees with their perspective and one that doesn't. Discuss how to "market" to an audience. Examine how arguments/conversation/discussion is supported by research and facts instead of fake news. If we want to stop the divisiveness in our country and the lame name calling and labels, let's teach our students to be better arguers, conversationalists and researchers. Imagine what this generation could do for our democracy in the years ahead. It's your call, Edina High School and parents--are you going to help your students become effective American citizens?

Sounds like debate gaming

I agree this is a teaching opportunity, and maybe that's exactly what's happening. I don't think we need to teach debate skills or gaming, we need to teach critical thinking. I also don't think we need "communication specialists" i.e. public relations instruction, since public relations is more often than not about obscuring information and shaping perceptions rather than authentic expression, reliable information, or legitimate discourse.

All we really need here is some basic rules of conduct that promote respect for fellow students and personal and intellectual integrity. That should be built into the school culture, you don't need to bring in specialists.

I hope...

Someone around here is noticing that one thing almost all the commenters have in common on this thread is a complaint about the shallow reporting of the article itself. This is not a complaint about bias, so no one can claim that they must be doing something right because everyone upset with them.