BERKS COUNTY, Pa. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of Sloane Wolfe, a high school student who has been advocating to end her school district’s use of its “Raider” mascot based on its stereotypical depiction of North American indigenous people. The lawsuit claims that Twin Valley School District’s refusal to recognize a student club devoted to ending the use of the mascot and raising awareness about indigenous culture violates Sloane’s rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act to use school facilities on the same basis as other student-led groups.
For three years, Sloane, her older sister, and other students in the Twin Valley School District have attempted to establish an official school club to “Retire the Raider.” Official school club recognition would allow Retire the Raider to meet during the school day, be featured on the school district’s website, and post flyers in school hallways.
“I want my district to be inclusive for everyone, and silencing my voice is not a solution,” said Sloane Wolfe. “Unfortunately, the district has fought our efforts to change its offensive mascot every step of the way.”
Administrators have refused to grant Retire the Raider official recognition because the students have been unable to find a teacher willing to serve as the club’s advisor. The lawsuit alleges that school administrators actively discouraged teachers from working with the club because many in the community oppose the club’s efforts to change the mascot.
“School officials can’t refuse to recognize a student club simply because they don’t like the club’s message,” said Richard Ting, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “At every turn for three years, the district has ignored, moved the goalposts, or flat out denied student requests to establish ‘Retire the Raider’ as an official school club. The First Amendment and the Equal Access Act require the district to provide the same benefits to ‘Retire the Raider’ as it provides to other student-led clubs.”
The school district currently recognizes scores of other official non-curriculum related student clubs, including a Christian club and an esports video game club. Recognized groups receive special privileges, like appearing on the school’s website and using school facilities for meetings.
The lawsuit, Wolfe v. Twin Valley School District, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In addition to Ting, attorneys representing Sloane Wolfe and her mother, Janelle Wolfe, are Michael E. Neminski of BakerHostetler and Sara Rose, deputy legal director of the ACLU-PA.
You can read a copy of the complaint at aclupa.org/TwinValley.