School suspends student for organizing anti-illegal immigration protest

CALIFORNIA -- A student in Riverside, Calif., filed a lawsuit last week against his high school after school officials suspended him for advertising an off-campus protest and later stopped him from wearing an anti-immigration T-shirt.

Joshua Denhalter was first suspended from Jurupa Valley High School in March when he attempted to organize a counter-demonstration after several students from the Mexican-American organization MEChA held a walkout and an on-campus protest against recent federal immigration legislation. According to the lawsuit filed Thursday, Denhalter was handing out fliers before school for a response assembly that would have taken place during the school's open lunch period on a sidewalk outside of campus. Denhalter refused to comply after a school official asked him to stop handing out fliers, and he was suspended for three days.

School officials also prohibited Denhalter on May 25 from wearing a T-shirt produced by ''Save Our State,'' a group against illegal immigration in California.

Denhalter said he filed the lawsuit both because he wanted to clear his record and bring attention to his school's actions.

''I think the school district needs to change and realize that there are consequences for what they do,''

Denhalter said. ''And I think they need to be respectful of everybody's rights, not just MEChA's rights.''

A Jurupa Valley Unified School District official referred the SPLC to attorney Mike Marlatt, who did not return phone calls Monday and Tuesday. Elliott Duchon, superintendent for the district, also declined comment to both the Daily Bulletin and the Press-Enterprise, two local newspapers.

Denhalter's lawsuit alleges that the school's conduct was ''oppressive,'' as well as ''politically motivated and partially fueled by a desire to avoid political controversy.'' Richard Ackerman, Denhalter's attorney, said the school's actions have created one of the worst cases he's seen involving a violation of students' expression rights.

''It shows an absolute lack of commitment to free speech rights,'' Ackerman said.

California, Jurupa Valley High School, news