Four parents have sued the public schools in Portland, Oregon, over accusations that the district emotionally manipulated and coerced its 50,000 students into participating in last year’s walkouts calling for action on gun violence.
The nationwide walkouts were held in March 2018. That was one month after a mass shooting killed 17 students and staff at South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, making the school massacre among the deadliest in United States history.
The lawsuit, which the families filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, accuses Portland Public Schools of using district resources to support gun control, and of creating a “coercive atmosphere within the schools that put [the students of the families suing] under compulsion to participate in the March 14th demonstrations and other anti-gun-related activities.”
The alleged anti-gun atmosphere violated the students’ First Amendment rights, and amounted to “mobilizing Portland schoolchildren for political purposes,” the lawsuit alleges.
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James Buchal — chair of the Republican Party in Multnomah County, which includes Portland — filed the complaint on behalf of the four parents, Willamette Week reports. Buchal is also an attorney.
Those suing were forced to subsidize the walkouts through their tax dollars, the lawsuit said.
“Many Americans believe that the right to keep and bear arms is the most important fundamental right established in the Constitution,” the lawsuit says, adding that the parents suing “fall into this group.”
In addition to reasonable attorney fees, the lawsuit seeks “a permanent injunction forbidding” Portland’s public schools from promoting an anti-gun agenda and from “creating time periods during which students may participate in political protests without being marked absent from class.”
The school district called the families’ accusations unfounded, the Oregonian reports.
“We believe the claims made in the lawsuit are baseless,” said district spokesman Harry Esteve, according to the Oregonian.
Buchal accused everyone from teachers to the school board of wrongdoing, according to KGW.
“Highly misleading propaganda, coupled with emotional manipulation of 50,000 Portland schoolchildren, allowed PPS to create political theater designed to manipulate public opinion and pressure elected officials to ban guns,” Buchal said, according to the TV station.
The lawsuit also said that the schools went out of their way to accommodate students walking out to call for action on gun control but “offered no school resources to pro-gun students similar to those [the district] provided to anti-gun students.”
Esteve said the school will now have to use resources to fight the lawsuit, KGW reports.
“And what’s really disappointing about it is that when we have a lawsuit like this, we have to spend a lot of time, a lot of resources through the legal system rather than using those resources to educate our students,” Esteve said, according to KGW.