Settlement ends Edina students' free-speech lawsuit

A months-long debate over free speech in the Edina Public Schools district ended with the settlement of a lawsuit Thursday night.

The school board approved the settlement agreement Thursday. The agreement ends a lawsuit brought in December by the Edina High School Young Conservatives Club and several students.

The suit claimed school officials had restricted students' free-speech rights and wrongfully terminated the Young Conservatives Club over members' criticism of a protest at a school Veterans Day assembly. Club members had reportedly taken to social media to denounce students who had refused to stand during the playing of "Taps" at the event.

The settlement does not include monetary payments by either side or admission of any wrongdoing by the school district.

The agreement does include two changes to district policies. The changes affirm student speech rights and forbid disbanding a club solely over exercise of free speech that does not interfere with the school's "basic educational mission."

The plaintiffs' lawyer Erick Kaardal said the policy changes mean Young Conservatives Club members won't face repercussions for protesting.

"That's progress. Surely if we're going to recognize that protesting the flag is protected by the First Amendment, then protesting the protesters should be protected too," Kaardal said.

District officials said the new policy language simply reiterates existing district practices. "We're committed to upholding [First Amendment rights] and we have not in any way denied those rights to students," said Susan Brott, district communications director. "If adding an additional statement helps people understand what we've already been practicing, we're certainly pleased to be doing that."

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