Lawsuit seeks $1M over Spartanburg Co. student’s LGBTQ essay

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SPARTANBURG Co., SC (WSPA) – An Upstate mother is suing a local school district for $1 million over a student’s LGBTQ essay, according to her attorney. 

We first told you about the litigation last week.

Read previous coverage here

The lawsuit is against Spartanburg County School District Six, Anderson Mill Elementary school, and its principal, Elizabeth Foster. 

It claims foster violated the first amendment rights of a 4th-grader when she decided the child’s LGBTQ essay was inappropriate.

Attorney Eric Poston with Chalmers Poston in Columbia said they want to hit the district financially to help send a message to other school leaders in the state.

“To put the fear of God into every other school district in the state and hopefully this message will spread beyond South Carolina,” Poston said. “Fundamentally she [student] wants people like her grandfather to be treated equally and in a state like South Carolina, you’re gonna need more than a hammer. You’re gonna need a gun.”

The school district released this statement in response to the lawsuit:

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.

Attorney Eric Poston’s full statement: 

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.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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