Family sues Cy-Fair ISD over expulsion
Student was sent home after sitting during pledge
Like many high schoolers before her, India Landry found herself in the principal’s office Monday morning.
The 17-year-old senior at Windfern High School wasn’t feeling good and texted her mother, Kizzy, to pick her up. India’s firstperiod English teacher tried to confiscate the phone since its use violated class policy. India refused to give it to her and was sent to see Principal Martha Strother.
While she was in the front office, Strother and other administrators stood for the Pledge of Allegiance. India remained seated, just like she has done around 200 other times at Windfern.
“I don’t want to stand for something that doesn’t represent what I’m going through,” she said.
The teen said she was given five minutes to leave the school.
“The principal said, ‘Stand up or you’re out of here,’ ” India said, adding that she was told that if she didn’t leave campus quickly, she would be escorted off campus by police. Legally protected
The Landry family filed suit against Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and Strother in federal court Saturday, retaining civil rights lawyer Randall Kallinen and citing the violation of the girl’s First Amendment rights.
“They just assumed it was about race,” Landry said. “The assistant principal told her, ‘All the other African-Americans are standing, so you should stand, too.’ ”
A statement released by Cy-Fair ISD said no student would be removed from campus for refusing to stand for the Pledge and that the matter would be dealt with internally. No additional details were available from the school or district.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, a 1943 Supreme Court case cited in the lawsuit, protects students from being forced to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public school.
“This is not legal,” University of Houston Law Center assistant professor Emily Berman said. “There are a lot of constitutional questions that raise difficult or ambiguous responses, but this is very clearly not legal.”
Besides the inconvenience and embarrassment of being kicked out of school, Landry said, the temporary expulsion could have long-term effects on India’s academic standing.
India transferred to Windfern, an alternative “campus of choice,” after falling behind at Cypress Springs High School. As such, it’s easy to fall behind at the school, she said. ‘This is not right’
In the week of classes she wasn’t allowed to attend, India missed a major grade in English and a test in algebra, and, Kallinen said, the four absences she accrued may have put her at risk of not being able to graduate on time in June.
“She was damaged. You can’t just throw people out of school,” Kallinen said. “I don’t know yet if she’ll be held back.”
Kallinen said Landry and her daughter are seeking an undisclosed amount in damages for mental anguish.
More than anything, though, Landry said she wants to raise awareness of students’ First Amendment rights being violated. The lawsuit was a last resort, she said, once the administration refused to correct their mistake.
“This is not right,” Landry said. “I don’t want other children to be treated like this.”
In a meeting with the principal Thursday, Strother allegedly cited previous problems with the teenager — attendance issues, credit shortages and low grades — as underlying issues for her expulsion.
“I thought, ‘Where is all this coming from?’ ” Landry said. “They never had a problem up until now.”
After India agreed to improve her performance, Strother told Landry the teenager would not be allowed to return unless she stood for the Pledge. Decision reversed
After a television station ran the story, Landry said the administration changed its decision, allowing India to return to school on Monday with a signed note from her mother saying it was OK for her to remain seated during the Pledge.
But, the senior said she’s uneasy with the thought of returning to a campus that treated her so crudely.
“I’m scared of being mistreated now by the administration because of what happened,” India said.
Strother and assistant principal Penny Irwin-Fitt did not respond to a request for comment.