Sunnyside High School students and their parents have negotiated an agreement with Sunnyside School District to clear illegally imposed suspensions from the students’ school records. The suspensions were imposed when the students left school last November to protest the passage of Initiative 200, a measure restricting affirmative action programs.
"I am happy that we were able to persuade the School District to remove the mark on my daughter’s record," said Luz Maria Ortiz, a parent of one of the suspended students. "It wasn’t fair for the school to suspend my daughter, especially without giving us a chance to discuss it with them first."
"The District was right to correct the problem for all of the affected students without protracted litigation. This resolution will allow the students to focus on continuing their education without worrying about a disciplinary record that should not have been imposed," added Lucy Helms, an attorney who represented the students and parents on behalf of the ACLU of Washington. Columbia Legal Services also provided legal representation.
School officials suspended over 160 students on Nov. 4, 1998, after the students left school grounds to take part in a peaceful protest of the passage of Initiative 200. The students believed that the initiative, which limits affirmative action in public employment, public contracting, and public education admissions and hiring decisions, would harm their future educational and economic opportunities. When the students returned to school grounds after the protest, they found out that they had been suspended for three days, effective immediately, without any opportunity for a conference with school officials and without notice to their parents.
The U.S. Constitution and state law require that the parents and students be given an opportunity to discuss proposed suspension with school officials before it is imposed. Schools must also use progressive discipline, trying less severe measures before imposing suspension. Suspension is not authorized for the first time a student has an unexcused absence. The students and parents allege that the Sunnyside School District violated their constitutional rights and state law by suspending them en masse, without any opportunity for a conference, and without any individual determination of the appropriate discipline for the situation. Mount Vernon students who took part in a similar protest simply received detention.
Last November, parents, students and their representatives met with School District officials to seek reversal of the suspensions and to have them removed from the students’ records. The District reduced the suspensions to two days but declined to clear the students’ records. Several students and parents then retained legal counsel and were able to obtain an agreement to have the suspensions removed from the records of all of the affected students without filing a lawsuit.