ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lawyers threatened legal action on Tuesday, saying Rio Rancho Middle School wasn’t allowing kids to launch an anti-abortion club. But the district is saying it will allow the group.
The Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit law firm, fired off a letter to the Rio Rancho Public Schools superintendent and the principal of Rio Rancho Middle School.
The letter – signed by the society’s local counsel John Nilan, and President and Chief Counsel Thomas Brejcha – claims former Rio Rancho Middle School student Dylan Fredette tried to start a “pro-life club” Phoenixes For Life last year, but was denied at that time by principal Lynda Kitts.
In response to the letter, Rio Rancho Public Schools sent a statement to the Journal on Tuesday that said, as long as the proper processes are followed by the students moving forward, the district “would certainly allow a club of this nature.”
It also said processes in place to address student or parent concerns weren’t followed in Fredette’s case and had the district been aware there was a concern “it would have been resolved immediately.”
“In this case, we wish the process would have been followed as there would have been a simple resolution,” the district’s comment said.
Spokeswoman Bethany Pendergrass said the district replied to the Thomas More Society, which demanded a reply within a week, on Tuesday relaying the same message.
The Thomas More Society letter said the principal’s initial decision violated Dylan Fredette’s rights under the First Amendment.
“Kitts advised Dylan she could not allow a pro-life club because it would be too controversial and would not be ‘fair’ to people who are ‘on the other side of the issue,’ ” the letter says, alleging Kitts later denied having that conversation.
The letter also cites an email Fredette sent to the principal, but Nilan refused to share those with the Journal.
Nilan said that Kitts acted “in a manner outside the scope of the school policy and the First Amendment.”
Kitts could not be reached for comment.
“The school has a policy and procedures manual, and they are not following it,” he said.
RRPS’ statement also addressed those policies.
“Per RRPS Policy 900, student initiated religious, political, and philosophical groups have the right to meet on the same basis and are subject to the same controls as any other student-initiated non-curriculum group,” its statement said.
The lawyers’ letter, which is sprinkled with precedents of similar cases, says Dylan’s brother Isaiah, a current middle schooler at Rio Rancho Middle School, is now planning on launching the club. The Thomas More Society had threatened to file a federal civil rights action if the school didn’t reply to the letter or if the school barred the club this year.
The district’s statement also said RRPS has an anti-abortion club at another school and supports students’ rights to have clubs that represent their views.