Steve Darnell and Tanya Young

School faces charges of civil rights violation

An unnamed person printed the pictures and took them to Churubusco High School Principal Austin Couch. 

Couch, named in the suit, suspended the girls from athletics and extracurricular activities for a year, citing the pictures violated the student handbook for acceptable behavior of athletes. 

After appealing the punishment, school policy allowed the girls to attend counseling, and then go before the athletic board, made up of Couch, Athletic Director Lee Etzler, and varsity coaches to apologize for the code violation.

The ACLU is charging that the girls’ first amendment rights were violated and that the school went too far in its discipline.

The District’s Superintendent, Steve Darnell issued a written statement during the regular board meeting on Monday night saying the school will no longer discuss the matter and that all questions should be directed to corporation attorney Erik Weber.

Following is the letter from Darnell:

“We have received a copy of a lawsuit filed against Smith-Green Community Schools on behalf of two student athletes by the ACLU. Our legal counsel has advised me to not discuss this in further detail other than the multiple pictures brought to school caused a disruption within our athletic teams at the beginning of this year’s seasons. The pictures were highly inappropriate in content and did not reflect the high standards of conduct we expect in our athletes and students who participate in extra-curricular activities.

Students who are athletes at Churubusco High School are subject to rules and expectations of behavior at a higher level than students choosing not to participate in extra-curricular activities. Student athletes represent our school and community through participation in extra-curricular events and sports in our community and other communities when traveling to away events. We expect our athletes to be held to a higher standard of behavior identified by IHSAA and our Board through adopted student behavior rules and expectations. Voluntary participation on a student’s part in extra-curricular events requires students to abide by the code of conduct and identify their agreement to follow these standards of behaviors.

We stand behind decisions made by Mr. Austin Couch, high school principal, in this situation. When students choose to violate extra-curricular expectations, there are consequences. Violation of the athletic code of conduct requires removal from athletics for a year unless the violating student participates in self-help counseling and appearance before the athletic board (comprised of the high school principal, athletic director and varsity coaches) to explain what was learned from the self-help sessions. When a student completes this process, the suspension is reduced to 25 percent of a season.

As a district, we support our student behavior policies for expected behavior in and out of season. Our administration at the high school makes every effort to assure fairness exists for all of our students.

Further comments or questions about the district’s position in this case are referred to our district attorney, Mr. Erik Weber.”

The Board meets regularly on the first and third Monday of the month in the school’s Administration Building at 7 p.m.

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