More than a year after legal wrangling and First Amendment rights untangling, a lawsuit involving a pair of twin brothers from Lee’s Summit against the R-7 school district quietly reached a settlement.
According to a report by the Kansas City Star, attorneys for Steven and Sean Wilson and their parents – Brian and Linda – and the R-7 district finalized a settlement Feb. 20 brought forth after the Wilson brothers’ sued the district last year alleging first amendment violations of free speech.
The district and the Wilson family’s attorneys agreed to settle the case at a mediation session Jan. 3 and finalized the $17,500 settlement Feb. 20, according to the Star.
The Star also reported that Kevin Weakley, an attorney for the Wilson family, said the case sat on the desk of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who was considering whether to take up the matter after a federal appeals court remanded a previous preliminary injunction ruling back to the district level.
Email messages Feb. 27 from the Journal left for Weakley seeking comment were unreturned.
“The appeal to the United States Supreme Court was being sought by the Wilsons, not the district,” Janice Phelan, a spokeswoman for the R-7 district, said in a statement emailed to the Journal Feb. 27. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that Judge Howard Sachs of the Western District of Missouri committed error when he disrupted discipline imposed by the district. The Wilsons sought appeal of that ruling; however, the United States Supreme Court did not grant the appeal.
“The settlement took place shortly after the Eighth Circuit ruled in the district’s favor. Having obtained a favorable decision from the Eighth Circuit, further litigating the case would serve no further purpose for the district. Because of this, the district’s insurance carrier agreed to a resolution with the students concerning the remaining claims asserted in their lawsuit. The district’s insurance carrier, which operates an insurance pool, has a fiscal and fiduciary responsibility to each of the insured entities in its pool, and has the authority to resolve remaining claims independently from the district. That responsibility includes resolving litigation that is likely to be protracted and costly.”
The case originated with the creation of northpress.tk in December of 2011. Steven Wilson testified during an injunction hearing in March of last year that he used a school computer during a class to download some tools needed for building the site, but he said he created it at home that night, using a server in the Netherlands to limit access to his small circle of friends, and never accessed it from school.
Attorneys for the district stated the brothers created and accessed the website on school property, using school computers during school hours, resulting first in 10-day suspensions for both students, and then 180-day suspensions approved by David McGehee, the district’s superintendent, and the rest of the R-7 school board.
The district condemned the blog for containing racial and sexual slurs against Lee’s Summit North students.
The 180-day suspensions were ultimately overturned after Sach ruled in March of 2012 that the Wilson brothers could return to the school to complete their junior year.
Attorneys for the Wilson brothers, who are currently enrolled at Lee’s Summit North, argued during the appeals process in district court that the brothers needed to return from Summit Ridge Academy, the district’s alternative school, to the more rigorous educational setting at Lee’s Summit North in order to get into honors classes, prepare for college entrance exams and audition for leadership positions with the school band.
Sach ruled in favor of the Wilson brother’s motion for a preliminary injunction, allowing them to return to Lee’s Summit North before the end of the 180-day suspensions. Sachs eventually ordered the school district to allow the twins to return to school in April of last year and continue their studies at North while their First Amendment case against the district proceeded.
However, after the district appealed the ruling, the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled in October that they “were not convinced the Wilsons were at risk of any real academic harm, much less any ‘certain and great’ harm that could be prevented by an injunction,” and set aside Sach’s ruling.
That appeals ruling, which, stated in part: “We vacate the district court’s order and reverse the preliminary injunction,” remanded the case back to the district court level after determining the district court erred in granting the students’ injunctive relief allowing them to return to the school.
The brothers are currently in school at North as seniors and are expected to graduate in May.