A local student and his family say they are filing a lawsuit seeking to protect the First Amendment rights of students after a Chamblee Charter High School freshman was suspended last month.

According to student Keegan Brooks, a series of events at Chamblee Charter High School led to the ninth grader creating and wearing a but-ton that read “Fire Braaten,” in reference to the school’s Principal Rebecca Braaten.

“Many of my teachers have expressed their dislike and frustration with how she leads the school. For example, in the 2017-2018 Annual Survey of Teachers and Staff, there were repeated concerns about how she created a ‘toxic work environment’ and other complaints. Her policies have also impacted students, such as neglecting to create a master schedule and being hostile and refusing to work with the Charter Governing Board on the 2018-2019 budget. And changing where and how students can go in the morning. These all led up to the creation of the stickers as a passive, non-disruptive form of protest against the principal’s leadership,” said Brooks.

After wearing the sticker and giving stickers to other students, disciplinary action was taken against Brooks.

“The reason given for his suspension was a Rule 12 School Disturbance. When I asked how the sticker caused a school disturbance, the response was that an administrator and school resource officer had to spend half of the day tracking down students who possessed the stickers, retrieve the stickers, and punish them,” said Russell Brooks, father of student Keegan Brooks. “My son was originally going to have out-of-school suspension for one week. A school administrator called the next day and said that after talking it over with another administrator, they had decided to reduce to the punishment to one day of in-school suspension which he served.”

According to DeKalb County School District officials, the infraction and resulting suspension was due to violating the DeKalb County School District Code of Conduct and not due to speaking critically of administration.

In a statement, the school district responded, “The DeKalb County School District supports the constitutional right of its students to freedom of speech, but it also requires that such exercises do not disrupt or degrade the learning environment. When that standard is violated, the district reviews each transgression on its own merits and uses the DCSD Student Code of Conduct as its guide in taking corrective action. Three students at Chamblee Charter High School were found to have violated that standard and were held accountable. The violations were considered disruptions of the school environment per the DCSD Student Code of Conduct.”

After exhausting disciplinary appeals within the school district, the Brooks family said they are taking the matter to court with a lawsuit in the Northern District of Georgia seeking to protect the First Amendment rights of students at Chamblee Charter High School to speak critically of their school administration.

“The next step is asking the court to rule on a preliminary injunction, permitting the stickers while the case is before the court. Ultimately, we are asking the court to rule that the stickers are protected under the First Amendment and that the DeKalb County School District must expunge disciplinary records relating to the stickers,” said Russell Brooks.

There is currently a petition on www.change.org organized by stake-holders, parents and students to have Braaten removed from the school with more than 2,600 signatures. “We, the stakeholders of Chamblee Charter High School, can no longer accept her gross dereliction of duties, nor will we tolerate her unprofessional treatment of teachers, staff and others. We lack any confidence in her ability to lead or achieve the academic expectations of students, teachers, alumni and community. She is incompatible with the culture of our school and we the petitioners insist on new leadership immediately.” Some of the reasons listed for the petition include failure to communicate, unprofessionalism, failure to create a Master Plan for the 2018-2019 school year and a hostile working relationship with Charter Governing Board.

For more information, visit www.dekalbschoolsga.org.

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