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Alive v. Hauppauge School District

March 31, 2009

YOUTH ALIVE, CANDACE ROJAS, BY AND THROUGH HER NEXT FRIENDS CARLOS AND APRIL ROJAS; DAVID DAVILA, BY AND THROUGH HIS NEXT FRIENDS DAVID AND MADELINE DAVILA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HAUPPAUGE SCHOOL DISTRICT; BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE DISTRICT; BOARD MEMBERS PAT LESSER, ANN MACALUSO, STEVE BURTON, DANIEL DELUCA, EILEEN MASS, GERI RICHTER, ROBERT SCHNEBEL; PATRICIA SULLIVAN-KRISS, SUPERINTENDENT; DEAN SCHLANGER, PRINCIPAL OF HAUPPAUGE HIGH SCHOOL; CHRISTINE O'CONNOR, ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL; AND MICHAEL CAULIN, ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas G. Garaufis, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs Candace Rojas and David Davila are founding members of Youth Alive, an extracurricular student Bible club at Hauppauge High School ("HHS"). Rojas, Davila, and the Youth Alive organization ("Plaintiffs") bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Equal Access Act, 20 U.S.C. § 4071, et seq., against the Hauppauge School District, its Board of Education, and the above-captioned school district officials ("Defendants"), asserting that the Defendants denied them the right to organize and meet at HHS in violation of the Equal Access Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction requiring Defendants to provide Youth Alive with "official recognition and approval" and the "associated benefits," including listing on the school website, a paid advisor assigned to the club, and access to a bank account for club funds, as well as declaratory relief and nominal damages.

Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint. They assert that their voluntary actions have mooted all but one claim, and that Plaintiffs' remaining claim seeking a paid advisor for Youth Alive fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. (See Docket Entry #18, Def. Mem.)

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Background

Plaintiff Candace Rojas ("Rojas") founded Youth Alive, originally known as the Bible Club, while attending HHS from 2005-2007. (Docket Entry #1, Compl. 3, 6.)*fn1 She served as club president during the 2006-2007 school year. (Id. at 3). Plaintiff David Davila ("Davila") is a student at HHS, and serves as the current president of Youth Alive. (Id.) They each profess to be adherents of the "Christian faith." (Id. at 3-4.)

Rojas first sought permission to form a Bible club at HHS from then-Assistant Principal Christine O'Connor ("Asst. Principal O'Connor") at or around the end of January 2005. (Id. at 6.) According to Plaintiffs, Asst. Principal O'Connor refused this request, replying that Rojas could not start a Bible club because "Hauppauge High School is too secular" and "because of the budget." (Id.) Asst. Principal O'Connor allegedly reiterated her refusal on at least two other occasions between January and June 2005, citing budgetary concerns. (Id.)

However, in September 2005, then-Principal Dean Schlanger ("Principal Schlanger") announced that the school would be recognizing a new student club, the Community Service Club. (Id.) Around the end of that month, Rojas again broached the subject of starting a Bible club, but faced continued resistance. (Id.) Rojas eventually secured a teacher who offered to advise the proposed club on an unpaid, volunteer basis. (Id.) On or about October 21, 2005, the Hauppauge School District Board of Education (the "School Board") apparently recognized the creation of the Bible club, now known as Youth Alive, and recommended the appointment of two advisors. (Id. at 7.) When the original volunteer advisor had to resign due to scheduling conflicts, Rojas secured a replacement, but Asst. Principal O'Connor informed her that the group could not meet until the new advisor was approved by the School Board. (Id.) By October 27, 2005, HHS agreed to allow Youth Alive to meet without the School Board's approval. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that obstacles persisted because HHS did not provide a permanent room for Youth Alive meetings until November 11, 2005. (Id.) On that date, Rojas held the organization's first official meeting. (Id.)

In the beginning of January 2006, Rojas asked Asst. Principal O'Connor to post information about Youth Alive on the HHS website. (Id.) Plaintiffs contend that this information should have been posted in October 2005, when the club was formed. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that the information was not posted from November 2005 until February 2006. (Id.)

The following school year, 2006-2007, Rojas met with David Davila to plan the curriculum and events for Youth Alive. (Id.) However, they allege that Asst. Principal O'Connor told them that Youth Alive was required to obtain renewed Board approval for the new school year before it could meet. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiffs further contend that by September 6, 2006, the first day of school, the Board had already approved all pre-existing clubs at HHS, with the exception of Youth Alive. (Id.) Nonetheless, by October 12, 2006, Asst. Principal O'Connor authorized the group to meet without additional Board approval. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that these actions caused Youth Alive to miss five weeks of meetings. (Id.)

To facilitate the organization's ability to meet, Asst. Principal O'Connor agreed to serve as an ad hoc advisor to Youth Alive. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that despite this offer, on one occasion Asst. Principal O'Connor did not show up as scheduled, forcing Rojas to hold the meeting in the hallway until a security guard opened the classroom and agreed to monitor the meeting. (Id.)

On November 1, 2006, Rojas and Davila attended a Board meeting in order to demand that Youth Alive be officially approved and recognized. (Id.) They allege that at this meeting, Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss ("Superintendent Sullivan-Kriss") refused to approve the organization because it was a "community club," not a "school club." (Id.) This "inaction" by the Board prohibited Youth Alive from meeting again until mid-November 2006. (Id.)

Plaintiffs assert that Defendants continued to deny benefits and privileges to Youth Alive through the 2007-2008 school year, and have never accorded Youth Alive "official approval and recognition." (Id. at 8-9.) Plaintiffs claim that this lack of official recognition delayed the formation of Youth Alive and deprived Youth Alive of club meetings, consistent meeting space, website listing alongside other clubs, a paid advisor, and access to a bank account to hold its funds. (Id. at 9.) In their Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs contend that the School District continues to violate their rights "[b]y refusing to grant Youth Alive formal approval by the school board and further refusing to assign a paid advisor for Youth Alive's meetings." (Docket Entry #19, Pl. Opp. 9.)

Defendants have submitted affidavits in support of their contention that all but one claim is moot. Defendants concede that the formation of Youth Alive was initially delayed in 2005 due to a moratorium on new extracurricular clubs that was established in response to cuts in the school budget. (Docket Entry #17, Affidavit of Christine O'Connor ("O'Connor Aff.) ¶ 2.) However, Defendants claim that they have been responsive to all concerns regarding the club's ability to function and meet since that time. (Def. Mem. 4-5.) Asst. Principal O'Connor attests that Youth Alive has met continuously since November 2005, with one interruption in September 2006 when there was some confusion as to whether Board approval was required for the club to meet in the 2006-2007 school year. (O'Connor Aff. ¶ 4.) According to Asst. Principal O'Connor, this interruption lasted one to two weeks at most. (Id.) Defendants aver that they first learned of Plaintiffs' interest in a school bank account for club funds upon the filing of this lawsuit, and similarly were unaware of any issue with respect to the website. (Id. ¶ 9.) They claim that Youth Alive was inadvertently omitted ...


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