It's a case that you have heard us talk about for months. A middle school student from New York State punished - suspended from school - for wearing a Rosary to school. And you may recall that we filed a federal suit, succeeded in obtaining an injunction, and got the school district to change that discriminatory policy.
Now, a final point in this case - a federal district court judge has signed off and approved a settlement agreement calling for school officials to pay nearly $25,000 in damages, legal fees, and costs and to expunge the record of Raymond Hosier, our client in the case.
What's encouraging is that this court-approved agreement, which was signed off by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn on October 30th, comes just weeks after school officials in Schenectady changed a discriminatory policy that prohibited students from wearing the Rosary to school.
We're delighted that this settlement agreement puts a period on what can only be viewed as a compelling victory for the First Amendment rights of students.
Our legal team would have preferred to achieve this outcome - protect the constitutional rights of our client and clear his record - without filing a federal lawsuit. But from the very beginning, school officials rejected that option and chose instead a legal battle - at the expense of local taxpayers - defending a flawed policy that was not only wrong, but unconstitutional as well.
We're pleased that this case finally has been resolved to the complete satisfaction of our client.
The case began in May when the school district indefinitely suspended Raymond, a 7th grade student at Oneida Middle School, for violating a dress code policy that banned the wearing of a Rosary to school - wrongly claiming it was a gang symbol.
We notified the school district by letter that such action violated Raymond's constitutional right of free speech and requested that corrective action be taken. The school district rejected our request to settle the issue without court action and, in June, we filed a federal lawsuit.
The court immediately issued an injunction clearing the way for Raymond to return to school for the remainder of the year without fear of further punishment. Then, in September, the school district announced it was amending its discriminatory policy - removing the ban on wearing a Rosary.
Now, the school district - through a court-approved settlement agreement - agrees to the payment of $22,500 in damages, legal fees, and costs. It also agrees to expunge Raymond's permanent school record of "all disciplinary notations, referrals, suspensions, and the like for any incidents that occurred during the period from May 17, 2010, through October 27, 2010. . . ."
The settlement agreement is posted here.
This case send an important message to other school districts, too - reminding them that the constitutional right of students to express their free speech does, indeed, apply in the school setting.