McKeesport students file civil rights lawsuit against district |

McKeesport students file civil rights lawsuit against district

Jamie Martines
McKeesport Area High School

High school students in the McKeesport Area School District filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday demanding the right to form a club called the Black Student Union.

The lawsuit, filed by 11 students against the district with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, contends that the district violated students’ First Amendment rights by repeatedly denying their efforts to form the club.

“Those of us who want to form the Black Student Union have concerns about the way students of color are treated at McKeesport,” the students said in a statement provided by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We feel that the club, which would be open to all students, will be a space for us to discuss our concerns and then plan to constructively address those concerns in the broader school community, including with adult leaders. Unfortunately, administrators keep shutting us down.”

The district and Superintendent Mark Holtzman are named as defendants.

In a joint statement provided by district spokeswoman Kristen James, school board President Joseph Lopretto and Vice President Mary Jane Keller expressed support for Holtzman, the high school staff and student body.

“Students, without any adult interference from Dr. Holtzman, or other staff members, met on this issue and determined that the need for a McKeesport Student Union was valid, but not one that would cause division amongst their peers,” the statement said.

Lopretto and Keller wrote that “information surrounding this process has been twisted and released onto social media to create anger and frustration that isn’t warranted.”

James said that district officials, including the superintendent, would not comment further Wednesday.

The suit also alleges that the district violated the federal Equal Access Act and argues that students should be allowed to form such a club “without administrative interference and without discrimination based on the message or purpose of the club,” according to a statement from the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to a request to speak with the students Wednesday.

The students have been working to form the club since January, according to the lawsuit.

The students plan to use the club to work with the district to address issues including instruction in black culture and history, along with the apparent disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions of black students over white students, according to the lawsuit.

McKeesport Area High School serves about 1,070 students in grades nine through 12, according to state Department of Education data.

About 43 percent of high school students identify as black, and about 45 percent identify as white, according to the data.

The students and the ACLU are seeking an injunction requiring the district and Holtzman to approve the operation of the Black Student Union as a formally recognized student club.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.