DC high school violated Arab students’ constitutional rights, ACLU says in lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued D.C. and the principal of Jackson-Reed High School, saying the school has suppressed the rights of members of its Arab Student Union.

The Arab Student Union is a recognized student club at the public high school that, for the past four months, has been trying to engage in expressive activities at the school, the ACLU said.

According to an ACLU news release, the club has tried to hold voluntary lunchtime meetings to screen a film critical of the Israeli government, for which the school has denied permission. Jackson-Reed High School has refused to even consider alternative films proposed by the club, the ACLU said.

Arthur Spitzer, senior counsel at ACLU of D.C., said the school also censored handouts the club tried to distribute by forcing members of the club to remove certain images.

“For example, there was a picture of a man in Arab clothing holding a key ring with some keys on it, and an explanation under it that this illustrated the ‘key of Palestine,’ which many Palestinians use to represent their feeling that they were wrongly evicted from their homes by Israel, and their feeling that they’re holding on to these keys to their old homes, because they should still have a right to go back,” Spitzer said.

“People may agree with that, people may disagree with that. But there’s no reason why someone can’t illustrate that and explain what the image stands for,” he added.

He said the group ran into more roadblocks when it wanted to hold a cultural night in January.

“The school pushed it off and pushed it off and required them to go through all kinds of hoops and imposed some limits on what they could do. So it is finally happening a little later this month, but it doesn’t have the vision that they had for it,” he told WTOP.

The Arab Student Union’s activities are the same things other clubs engage in, but their speech has been suppressed because the school does not want their viewpoint — which concerns the ongoing war in Gaza and its effects on the Palestinian people — to be heard, the ACLU said.

“Students have the right, just as adults do in the world, to talk about what they want to talk about. And unless there’s a good reason for the school to think that there is going to be disruption — that education is going to be interrupted, that there are going to be fistfights in the hallways, that kind of thing — then the school really does not have a role in saying to the students, ‘You can’t talk about this topic or that topic,'” Spitzer said.

The ACLU has filed a preliminary injunction in order to get the case heard quickly. Spitzer said they’re asking the court to hear the case in early May so, if the court rules in favor of the Arab Student Union, it can carry out its activities before the school year ends in June.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

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Thomas Robertson

Thomas Robertson is an Associate Producer and Web Writer/Editor at WTOP. After graduating in 2019 from James Madison University, Thomas moved away from Virginia for the first time in his life to cover the local government beat for a small daily newspaper in Zanesville, Ohio.

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