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Klein ISD student wins $90K settlement after being harassed for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance

LaShan Arcenaux, right, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of her daughter M.O. left, a student at Klein Oak High School, for alleged bullying by officials because she didn't stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. At a press conference on Oct. 25 her lawyer, Randall Kallinen, center, said that officials making M.O. stand for the pledge violates her freedom of speech.
LaShan Arceneaux, right, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of her daughter M.O. left, a student at Klein Oak High School, for alleged bullying by officials because she didn’t stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. At a press conference on Oct. 25 her lawyer, Randall Kallinen, center, said that officials making M.O. stand for the pledge violates her freedom of speech. Mayra Cruz / Houston Chronicle

A Klein Oak High School student has won a $90,000 settlement with the district following a lawsuit in which she said several teachers harassed and disciplined her for sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance, according to a Tuesday release from the civil rights organization American Atheists.

The nonprofit Texas Association of School Boards paid to resolve the case before it went to trial in Houston federal court, per the release.

The 2017 suit brought by an attorney from American Atheists with a co-counsel from a Houston civil rights firm says the student, a minor identified by the initials as M.O., endured discrimination and harassment for declining to participate in the pledge because she objected to the words “under God” and believed that “liberty and justice for all,” is not guaranteed for people of color. She says several Klein Oak teachers harassed her over several school years for failing to stand for the pledge, and that several counselors, administrators, and former Principal Brian Greeney failed to take adequate measures to protect her rights. She also states that she was repeatedly bullied by other students.

Klein ISD did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. Attorneys for the defendants in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

One of the teachers named in the suit, sociology teacher Benjie Arnold, is accused of repeatedly harassing the student during two consecutive school years. Arnold threatened he would fail students who refused to participate in the pledge, telling them, “What you’ve done is leave me no option but to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentment and animosity that you want,” according to the release. Arnold was also reportedly captured in an audio recording in evidence offering to pay for students to move to Europe if they didn’t like living in the U.S.

The harassment resulted in the student withdrawing from Klein ISD. She returned to the district after being homeschooled for some time, but the discrimination continued and intensified, the suit says.

The harassment led the student to suffer panic attacks that “greatly interfered” with her education. Her family invested more than $10,000 in costs related to homeschooling, the lawsuit states.

 

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