Home Education Parent Brings Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Highline School District

Parent Brings Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Highline School District

By Katie Kresly

On April 19, a concerned Highline parent and King County resident, James Payne, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Highline School District, alleging ongoing, willful infringement of the 1st and 14th Amendments.  

Regarding the 1st, Payne charges that the district unlawfully exercises “policy, practice and/or customs which intimidates students, faculty, and parents from the exercise of their First Amendment and parental rights, while promoting religious and political propaganda under color of law.”

Regarding the 14th, which requires all citizens to be treated equally under the law, schools have been subjecting students, employees, and faculty to “manifestly political propaganda, inappropriate for public schools… destructive to his children’s [and other students’] learning environment.” “District-sanctioned posters affixed to the schools’ walls, promoting a number of sectarian political and/or quasi-religious causes… constitutes a prima facie violation of civil rights. Namely, Equal Protection and First Amendment violations.”

Current district policies include Highline’s “Instruction on Race and Identity (IRI),” which teaches students to view each other as victims or oppressors, thereby fomenting racial division and conflict between children. IRI essentially teaches the “hate” that Highline claims to be against. Since Highline approved their IRI policy, over 1400 students, 80% of them white children, have left the public school system. Is it possible that IRI policies created a hostile learning environment that caused this exodus within the district?  

Mr. Payne’s motto is “Academics, not Activism.” In contrast, the district supports political activism of social causes, including BLM organization, LGBTQ+, etc., many of which are sponsored by WEA-NEA teachers’ unions, as evidenced by the union logos printed on many of the propaganda posters.

Here is an example of an LGBTQ+ poster first observed at North Hill Elementary School:

For more than a year, Mr. Payne said he expressed his grievances regularly at school board meetings, by email, direct contact with his school principal, administrators, and board members. He also filed dozens of formal Public Disclosure Requests (PDRs), publicly railing on the ineffective nature of Highline’s Records Section under the leadership of Highline Chief Strategy Officer Holly Ferguson.

On August 31, 2022, Ms. Ferguson responded to Mr. Payne by email, where she explained, “Teachers and other school staff have the ability to put posters up in their classrooms. The fact that some of the posters are supported by one or more unions or other groups does not make them prohibited, nor does it make them inherently political.”  

After a year, it became apparent to Mr. Payne that none of his grievances would be addressed by the Highline School District.  So on October 10, 2022, his attorney delivered a “Cease and Desist of Political-Programming” notification.  In this document, Mr. Payne paraphrased Ms. Ferguson’s August 2022 email as, “teachers have rights of free speech to engage in classroom advocacy on behalf of their union and the LGBTQ agenda.” 

Mr. Payne and his attorney responded, “While teachers are free to promote their ideas about sexuality in the public square, such advocacy in the classroom violates equal protection and creates a potentially hostile learning environment against students who disagree with the apparent consensus among educators that the LGBTQ agenda constitutes a new moral imperative.” Highline’s Equity Policy 0010 underscores his concerns. 

On January 27, 2023, he met with Superintendent Dr. Duran and School Board President Van, where he vehemently insisted that all agenda-driven political and sex-related posters be removed from his children’s school and ALL Highline schools. He pleaded for relief from the “emotional distress and cognitive dissonance experienced by his children from messages conflicting with their traditional upbringing at home.” They listened attentively, but no resolution was offered.

Mr. Payne is not a political activist. He does not hate people of different races or sexual identities. He is merely a dad who is concerned that the increase in political activism has shifted the focus of Highline Schools far away from effective academic success. According to OSPI, Highline academic standards have plummeted to the lowest 20% in Washington State. How is this preparing students to be responsible, productive members of society?

Mr. Payne stated that he is not expecting the Highline District to adopt his or anyone else’s political view. “Schools are to be apolitical; they are academic, not socialization institutions.” 

By filing this lawsuit, Mr. Payne intends to halt all district-sanctioned political propaganda, such as BLM and the teacher Union’s “Educators standing with LGBTQ+ Students” posters, all political-support flags like the “Progress Pride flags” (save for the US and Washington State Flags), race and identity-based policies, etc.

He feels that by helping Highline eliminate confusing, political messages within the district, students will be provided an equal opportunity (not “equitable,” meaning equal outcomes) to succeed academically, free from social justice proselytizing, SEL, and divisive racial, transsexual, and gender ideologies.  

Mr. Payne demands that the Highline School District follow the law and revert to honoring the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of all students, faculty, and parents.  

We contacted the Highline District for comment but have yet to receive a response.

If you wish to support Mr. Payne’s efforts (legal expenses), here is his Go Fund Me page.

Additionally, if you see any political, sexual, or LGBTQ+ posters hanging in your school, please feel free to send a photo to katie@danielmedia.com.

Notice of Correction:  This article has been edited to modify a quotation, incorrectly attributed to Holly Ferguson.

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