School suspends student for organizing anti-illegal immigration protest

CALIFORNIA — Astudent in Riverside, Calif., filed alawsuit last week against his high schoolafter school officials suspended him for advertising an off-campus protest andlater stopped him from wearing an anti-immigration T-shirt.

JoshuaDenhalter was first suspended from Jurupa Valley High School in March when heattempted to organize a counter-demonstration after several students from theMexican-American organization MEChA held a walkout and an on-campus protestagainst recent federal immigration legislation. According to the lawsuit filedThursday, Denhalter was handing out fliers before school for a response assemblythat would have taken place during the school’s open lunch period on asidewalk outside of campus. Denhalter refused to comply after a school officialasked him to stop handing out fliers, and he was suspended for threedays.

School officials also prohibited Denhalter on May 25 fromwearing a T-shirt produced by ”Save Our State,” a group againstillegal immigration in California.

Denhalter said he filed thelawsuit both because he wanted to clear his record and bring attention to hisschool’s actions.

”I think the school district needs tochange and realize that there are consequences for what they do,”

Denhalter said. ”And I think they need to be respectful ofeverybody’s rights, not just MEChA’s rights.”

AJurupa Valley Unified School District official referred the SPLC to attorneyMike Marlatt, who did not return phone calls Monday and Tuesday. Elliott Duchon,superintendent for the district, also declined comment to both theDaily Bulletin and thePress-Enterprise, two localnewspapers.

Denhalter’s lawsuit alleges that the school’sconduct was ”oppressive,” as well as ”politically motivatedand partially fueled by a desire to avoid political controversy.” RichardAckerman, Denhalter’s attorney, said the school’s actions havecreated one of the worst cases he’s seen involving a violation ofstudents’ expression rights.

”It shows an absolute lackof commitment to free speech rights,” Ackerman said.