Spartanburg, SC (FOX Carolina) - A Spartanburg County School District, elementary school, and principal are being sued after a mother claims her ten-year-old daughter was told by the school's principal that her essay on LGBTQ rights was inappropriate.
Anderson Mill Elementary School, Spartanburg County School District 6 and Principal Elizabeth Foster were all named as defendants in the suit filed this week in federal court.
According to the lawsuit, students were given an assignment by their teacher to write a paper on any topic, addressed "to society."
The lawsuit states that it was the understanding of the plaintiff that all fourth grade students were given this assignment, with the end goal being that all the papers would be combined, published and sent home with the students.
The lawsuit says the plaintiff, identified as Hannah Robertson on behalf of her minor daughter, claims that the principal reviewed all of the papers and said the school would not publish the girl's paper. The lawsuit claims the principal said the essay topic was not acceptable, not age-appropriate and would make other parents upset.
The plaintiffs claim that the school violated the fourth grader's First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech. The suit states that by forcing the plaintiff to change the topic of her paper, the principal denied the girl of her right to engage in protected speech.
The lawsuit states that both Plaintiffs are proud advocates of LGBTQ rights and that the Plaintiff decided that she “wanted her paper to help society learn to treat members of the LGBTQ community equally."
Her paper read as follows after two written drafts (verbatim):
I don’t know if you know this but peoples view on Tran’s genders is an issue. People think that men should not dress like a women, and saying mean things. They think that they are choosing the wrong thing in life. In the world people can choose who they want to be not being told that THEIR diction is wrong. I hope people understand that people can hurt themselves from others hurting their feelings. People need to think before they speak because one word can hurt someone’s feelings. We need to fix this because this is getting out of hand!”
The lawsuit goes on to state that Principal Foster then directed the girl to instead change her paper to be about bullying. The lawsuit says the principal told the mother that it was "not age-appropriate to discuss transgenders, lesbians and drag queens outside of the home” and that “the topic would be disagreeable.”
The plaintiffs in the suit are seeking to "recover compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering as well as other damages as deemed appropriate by the Court."
Hannah Robertson's attorney, Eric Poston, released an initial public statement on the lawsuit on March 13.
That full statement is below.
The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate. Unfortunately, in this case, not only was a 10-year-old girl forced to shed these rights, she had to watch helplessly as her own Principal, Elizabeth Foster, shredded them with no remorse.
While there are several forms of discrimination related to free speech rights, the court finds viewpoint-based discrimination to be especially egregious. When the government engages in viewpoint discrimination, as is the case here, it is restricting speech based solely on the speaker’s opinion or perspective on a particular subject matter. In this case, Principal Foster made painfully clear the extent of her disdain for the LGBTQ community by publicly humiliating and emotionally destroying a child for writing what could only reasonably be described as a message of love and acceptance for both those within the LGBTQ community as well as without.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this case is that this child’s maternal grandfather is a proud homosexual active in the LGBTQ community. As a result, her mother is very active in fighting for LGBTQ rights. So, imagine, just for a second, being only 10 years old and having your Principal make clear to you that your grandfather’s lifestyle is so immoral and unethical that even a message as incredibly benign and innocent as this child’s was is absolutely unacceptable.
The grand irony of the situation is that, through the filing of this lawsuit, far more people are being exposed to this child’s message of love and equality than if Principal Foster had simply allowed it to be published alongside the other papers written by her classmates.
For those who have not read the Complaint, I implore you to do so. It includes, in full, this child’s original paper as well as the paper she was forced to write on the topic of bullying. The papers are so similar that, by implication, Principal Foster made it clear that it was simply this child’s support of LGBTQ rights, of her own grandfather’s lifestyle, that Principal Foster found so heinous. It was not the message itself, which was purely one of love and acceptance.
I’d like to call to action the families of students at Anderson Mill Elementary School and beyond who support this child’s simple message of love, acceptance and equality. Though Principal Foster told this child’s mother, Hannah Robertson, that the families of the students at Anderson Mill would find this paper to be utterly distasteful, I know that is not the case. I implore those out there who agree with this child to stand with her – to empathize with the trauma that Principal Foster inflicted on an innocent 10-year-old girl and to do everything within the bounds of the law to make certain that no child is ever again subjected to this type of treatment.
Finally, I’d like to clarify the goals of this litigation. The first goal is to force the replacement of Principal Foster with a compassionate, caring, non-judgmental individual. The second goal is to send a message throughout the school districts in South Carolina and around the country that the behavior displayed by Principal Foster is utterly intolerable and will be met with swift and aggressive legal action. However, the most important goal is to show this child that that the vast majority of people are on her side – that Principal Foster speaks only for herself and very few others. This child needs to know that, through her bravery in standing up for herself via this lawsuit, she is helping ensure that no child is ever again forced to feel the way Principal Foster made her feel. At the end of the day, we encourage the public to focus on the positive message being espoused by this child and not the bigotry displayed by Principal Foster.
FOX Carolina reached out to the school district after initially learning of the lawsuit and was informed that the school district had not been served officially but did consider the claims in the lawsuit to be inaccurate.
On Thursday, March 14, Spartanburg District Six issued a revised statement, taking issue with both the lawsuit and the statements from the plaintiff's attorney.
“Spartanburg County School District Six takes strong issue with the lawsuit recently filed against the District, as well as the statement issued by the attorney who filed the lawsuit, which are replete with blatantly false statements and accusations. Our attorneys will file a response to the lawsuit and vigorously defend the district and Principal Elizabeth Foster. The District cannot comment on the specifics of the situation due to its obligation to comply with the federal and state laws to protect the student’s confidentiality and because of the pending litigation. However, the District wishes to make clear that it recognizes, respects, and protects the constitutional rights of all of its students. Additionally, the District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity status, disability or age. The District maintains an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, parents, employees, and members of the community."
A court date has not yet been announced.