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Student, mom allege district violated rights

Dance team policy restricting social media communication called into question.


The Scappoose School District is the subject of a federal lawsuit surrounding a code of conduct which is required for participation on the Scappoose High School Vision Dance Team.

The plaintiffs — Scappoose High School junior Marissa Harper and her mother, Alicia Harper — have filed suit against the district in U.S. District Court, claiming the required policy violates their constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.

 Stephen Jupe, Scappoose School District SuperintendentThe lawsuit, filed against the Scappoose School District, Superintendent Steven Jupe, High School Principle Eric Clendenin and Dance Coach Pamela Didier, stems from a dance team meeting held May 9 in which a tryout packet was passed out to each attending member. The packet states that, as a member of the team, the athletes are representatives of the school and as such must abide its policies concerning sportsmanship and the use of social media.

To try out for the team, both the student and a parent or guardian must sign the packet, agreeing to refrain from participation “in any negative comments either verbally or written via social media,” which the policy defines as Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages, Skype, MySpace, SnapChat, blogs, discussion boards and “any other form of social communication that could adversely affect the entirety of the team, coaches, or an individual.”

The terms of the policy include comments directed toward coaches and officials, as well as teammates and opponents. A clause also includes the prohibition of the posting of “damaging, incriminating, or inappropriate photos of (the athlete).”

The penalty for violating the policy is suspension or dismissal from the team, per the coach's decision.

The lawsuit states that, after refusing to sign the packet during the meeting on May 9, Alicia Harper scheduled meetings with Clendenin and Jupe, concerned about the rights of her daughter. During the initial meeting, the lawsuit alleges, Clendenin didn't give a response, instead referring her to Jupe.

In a later meeting, Jupe was “equally dismissive” and claimed to have no knowledge of the policies, according to the lawsuit complaint, but said he was confident Didier had taken them from the Oregon School Activities Association's handbook, which includes a section regarding disparaging comments to the media.

The dance team's policy, according to Harper, was written by Didier herself, and after reading and reviewing the policy, Jupe told Harper he believed the policy “did not believe they violated any rights or broke any laws,” but that he would discuss the matter with the school's attorney and send a response through Clendenin.

The Harpers had not heard back from Clendenin by the time the suit was filed, though multiple attempts to reach Jupe, Clendenin and the school district were made, according to the complaint, including notice of the claim sent on Nov. 25 and repeated attempts to contact any of the named defendants on Dec. 12.

Both Clendenin and Athletics Director Robert Medley declined to comment on the lawsuit, though they said an announcement would be made once there had been more time to review it.

Jupe also declined comment.

“Frankly, I have no answers right now,” said Jupe. “I have nothing to say at the moment.”

Melissa Harper, upon her and Alicia Harper's refusal to sign the policy, did not try out for the dance team for the current school year. Harper was on the team as a freshman in 2011, and once again in 2012, but decided not to participate with the inclusion of the social media agreement to the team code of conduct. Due to costs of travel and lessons at the “closest equivalent dance schools,” Harper has not been able to pursue dance since the conclusion of last year's season.

Darin Sands, the head attorney representing the Harpers, said the case was filed with the federal court on Monday and they are still awaiting word from the court on when proceedings will begin. They hope to have a hearing some time this spring, in time for Melissa Harper to participate in tryouts for her senior season during the 2014-15 school year.