Pa. school settles in case of denying pro-life club

A Pennsylvania school district announced an out-of-court settlement two weeks ago that will allow a pro-life club to exist at the school, despite the district having initially disapproved of the club last school year, The Morning Call reports from Parkland.

“The Administration recommends that the Board approve and authorize the School Board President to execute the attached Release and Settlement Agreement,” the board’s agenda said, without attaching the agreement because it had not yet been approved by the court.

The Morning Call reported, though, that the anti-abortion (pro-life) club known as Trojans for Life, spearheaded at the school by Elizabeth Castro, now a graduate of Parkland High School, and by senior Grace Schairer, will operate for two years on a provisional basis, as do all new clubs in the Parkland School District. If a faculty adviser takes it on, the club holds regular meetings, and other conditions from school policy are met, the club will shake off its provisional status as a non-curricular student organization.

Example Parkland School District policy: Student fundraising

Purpose
The Board acknowledges that solicitation of funds from students must be limited since compulsory attendance laws make the student a captive donor and such solicitation may disrupt the educational program of the schools.

Definition
For purposes of this policy, student fundraising shall include solicitation and collection of money by students for any purpose in exchange for any goods or services.

Authority
The Board prohibits the collection of money by a student for personal benefit in school, on school property, or at any school sponsored event.

Delegation of Responsibility
The Superintendent or designee shall establish rules and regulations to implement this policy. Collection of money by approved school organizations may be permitted by the building principal. Collections by students on behalf of school organizations outside the schools may be permitted only by the Superintendent. The principal shall distribute all Board policies and school rules which implement them to each student organization granted permission to solicit funds.

Guidelines
All sales contemplated by student groups that involve raising money for a school activity shall be limited and shall be approved by the school principal before fundraising plans are finalized.

The students enlisted the help of some legal experts, starting with Students for Life of America and progressing to the Thomas More Society, which is a religious organization in Chicago that provides legal assistance to student groups that encourage women not to have abortions after becoming pregnant.

Editorial

The controversy surrounding this issue has made it a social and political hot potato, and once again, a school district is willing to spend untold amounts of money fighting litigation that they know they’ll lose. It is wrong, first, that the Thomas More Society took this school district to court over such a simple issue, especially after the school district says it responded to a “demand letter,” and, second, that the school district didn’t cut its litigation costs sooner.

Whatever the reason for the district initially denying the club’s right to exist, it couldn’t have possibly involved anything about school safety or the school’s educational mission.

These students hope to counsel women and girls who are in trouble, facing a possibly unwanted pregnancy, by letting them know they have options beyond an abortion. You can agree or disagree with that position, but what you can’t do, under any circumstances if you’re receiving federal funds to operate a school, is deny them the right to speak peacefully in a way that doesn’t interfere with school operations.

I honestly didn’t believe there was a school district anywhere that still believed in suppressing student speech in this way, but I have, once again, been proven wrong.

“Elizabeth and Grace wanted nothing more than an opportunity to create a life-affirming culture at their school, educate their peers on the issue of life, hold diaper drives to support pregnant and parenting students, and become a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves,” the Thomas More Society was quoted as saying in a prepared statement.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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