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School district responds to Fisk's allegations

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Delta County Joint School District #50, and its special counsel, Jon Olafson, have responded to the complaint filed by Cidney Fisk, a 2016 Delta High School graduate. Fisk has filed suit in federal court, accusing DHS teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and school district leadership of retaliation after she spoke out against religious activities during school hours on school property.

Fisk claims that when she exercised her right to free speech and religious beliefs, school officials and teachers retaliated by reducing her grades, depriving her of honors she believed she'd earned, undermining her scholarship and university applications, and creating an unwelcome and hostile environment.

As a result, Fisk maintains she suffered extreme emotional and mental harm requiring hospitalization.

Named as defendants were the school board, superintendent Caryn Gibson, DHS principal Derek Carlson, counselors Shawna Magtutu and Holly Teyler-Crowder and John Miller, a DHS teacher. On Friday, Dec. 8, Olafson filed a response denying each and every allegation in Fisk's complaint.

Fisk's civil action refers to Delta County High School; Olafson responded that there is no such entity. Moreover, Delta High School does not have legal capacity to sue or be sued.

Fisk alleges that Delta High School "permits, encourages and supports religious activities." The defendants admit that DHS permitted a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club, allowed youth pastors to meet with students at lunch, allowed Gideons to place free Bibles at Delta Middle School in 2015 and 2016, continue to allow a church to use the school cafeteria on Sundays, and other activities outlined in Fisk's suit, but deny Fisk's First Amendment rights were violated by retaliation against her criticisms about those activities.

In her suit, Fisk says she was reprimanded for her "attitude," as well as outward expressions of her views. Olafson responds to those accusations and numerous others with the blanket statement: "Defendants lack knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of the allegations and accordingly deny the same."

The defendants admit that as a member of the journalism staff of Delta High School, Fisk contributed magazine articles about religious issues, but deny attempts were made to stop the magazine from being published.

They deny retaliating against or attempting to censor any student, no matter their religious beliefs. Any actions defendants took that directly or indirectly affected Fisk, as alleged in the complaint, were "justified by lawful, good faith considerations." Those good faith efforts to comply with school district policies "may limit and/or preclude potential liability," the response states.

The school district is asking the U.S. District Court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice and award the defendants attorney's fees, costs and expenses incurred in defending the action.

Not mentioned in the response is a school district policy that opens use of facilities to all community members, as long as there is no negative impact on the school's mission.

Another policy related to distribution of non-curricular materials, including Gideon Bibles, was revised after complaints from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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