McKeesport Black Student Union v. Holtzman

Federal lawsuit challenging the McKeesport Area School District’s refusal to approve a Black Student Union club.

Court/Assoc.: Federal District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Attorneys/Firms: Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania

On April 10, 2019, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the McKeesport Area School District and Superintendent Mark Holtzman, Jr., for refusing to approve a Black Student Union club proposed by several students.

The students have done everything school officials have asked them to do to have their group approved but the school has refused to allow the group to meet during non-instructional time, as other clubs are permitted to do. Instead, Holtzman selected a group of 15 students - most of whom were not associated with the proposal for the BSU - and asked them to establish the McKeesport Student Union.

In the proposal for the BSU, the students established that the club would be open to all students and would be a space for discussing concerns about race and the treatment of students of color in the district.

The lawsuit challenges the district’s action as a violation of the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Act, which prohibits public schools from interfering in the establishment of non-curricular clubs due to a club’s mission or message. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction against the district, which would allow the students to start the club.

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