Family sues Cy-Fair ISD over ex­pul­sion

Stu­dent was sent home af­ter sit­ting dur­ing pledge

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Mar­i­aluisa Rin­con Fer­nando Ramirez con­trib­uted to this re­port. mar­i­aluisa.rin­

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.

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