Parent sues school district for violating First Amendment rights

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By Ben Shapiro, News Editor Conestoga High School parent Benjamin Auslander filed a lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District on April 12 claiming that the district violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The district asked to dismiss the lawsuit; however, the judge denied the request. Among the local and national debate regarding...

By Ben Shapiro, News Editor

Conestoga High School parent Benjamin Auslander filed a lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District on April 12 claiming that the district violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The district asked to dismiss the lawsuit; however, the judge denied the request.

Among the local and national debate regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools, in January, Auslander made a Right to Know Request for all records, lesson plans and materials prepared by the Pacific Educational Group (PEG), the district’s racial equity consultant. 

On Jan. 26, one week after Auslander filed his request, the district notified him that he could not obtain a copy of the PEG training materials since they are protected by copyright; however, the district informed him that he would be allowed to view the documents during an “in-camera viewing,” at which point he would not be allowed to copy or photograph the documents.

On Feb. 7, as planned by TESD Business Manager and School Board Secretary Arthur McDonell, Auslander arrived at the TESD Administrative Office to view the PEG curriculum. As stated in the plaintiff’s complaint, Auslander began recording himself reading the documents before him, making “verbal recordings on his smart phone of what his eyes were seeing.”

“McDonnell threatened (Auslander) with criminal and civil liability if he continued to record the sound of his own voice describing what his eyes were seeing,” the complaint stated. “McDonnell threatened to hold (the) plaintiff liable under the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act for recording his own voice. He also threatened to hold (the) plaintiff liable under ‘copyright laws.’”

Despite McDonnell asking Auslander to stop recording himself — and telling him that if he did not stop, he would be ordered to leave the district office — Auslander continued his recording. McDonnell immediately terminated the viewing, and afterward, Auslander contacted his lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the district and McDonnell arguing that “by threatening, coercing and ending (Auslander’s) inspection of public documents because (he) was exercising his first amendment right to speak, (McDonnell) was violating (Auslander’s) clearly established rights.”

Auslander, his lawyer and McDonell all declined to speak on the pending litigation. 

Three months after Auslander filed his lawsuit, the judge ordered that the case would go to a non-jury trial on May 18. Two days before, however, the judge canceled the trial and ordered Auslander to amend his complaint to include PEG as a defendant. On May 20, Auslander included PEG as a defendant without adding any additional claims. 

One major point of contention within this case, while not relating to the alleged First Amendment violation at hand, is the subtext regarding CRT. Auslander argues that the district intertwines CRT into school curriculum.

“Defendant Tredyffrin/Easttown School District openly maintains a CRT curriculum and indoctrination program for teachers, staff, and students,” the plaintiff’s complaint states. The district denies the allegations.

PEG is expected to reply and take legal action within 21 days of notification of the lawsuit, and only after it files an “answer to the complaint,” will the court move forward with setting a date for a trial.

Despite the outcome of this case, PEG educational materials still remain subject to copyright laws as they are produced by a private organization and the district has made no mention of terminating its contract with PEG.


Ben Shapiro can be reached at [email protected]

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