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Teen, family sue North Carolina school district

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North Carolina parents withdrew their teen from and have sued a school district it says unfairly issued a suspension and “injected race” into a question of clarification from an English teacher.

The Davidson County School District Board of Education is the defendant against Christian McGhee, the 16-year-old at Central Davidson High in Lexington. The Liberty Justice Center, based in Chicago, and Raleigh-area lawyers Troy Shelton and Craig Schauer are counsel for the plaintiffs for the case filed Tuesday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

The lawsuit asks for full clearance and removal of the mark on McGhee’s record. Damages in an amount to be determined at trial are also being sought.

Dean McGee, educational freedom attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, in an exclusive interview Tuesday morning with The Center Square, said, “It impacts, every student in the country, and their right to speak without fear of aggressive retaliation from their administration. In this case, our client, in the context of the conversation, asked a question that on its face was racially neutral. It was earnest in the class discussion.

“From there, the administration fabricated a racial incident, and had the audacity to tell a Hispanic student who said he was not offended that he should have been offended. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The lawsuit says McGhee’s right to free speech, right to education and right to due process have all been violated by the school district. Response from the school district is being sought by The Center Square.

According to McGhee’s lawyers, the situation unfolded in class on April 9. The sophomore raised his hand and asked if the teacher’s reference to “aliens” referred to “space aliens, or illegal aliens who need green cards?”

“Christian asked his question,” McGee said. “A boy in his class, of Hispanic heritage, jokingly said ‘Hey, I’m going to kick your …’” and used an expletive.

McGee said class continued in usual fashion, that the two teens are friends and there was “no legitimate threat of a fight.”

The teacher, afterward, called in administration regarding not the use of the words, but the appearance of a threat. Assistant Principal Eric Anderson, McGee said, talked to the teens.

“The kid said he was joking” about a fight, and that “he was not offended,” McGee said. “He said it was no big deal.”

In addition to telling the student he should have been offended, McGee said Anderson gave the student a suspension in school of less than one day and remarked about his Spanish grade being low despite his heritage.

“These two students, by all indications,” McGee said, “had no issues with each other. It’s the administrators at the school who escalated this into national news and a racial incident.”

McGhee’s suspension was for three days, no appeal was permitted, and he was kept out of a track meet.

His parents said he was branded a racist, ostracized, bullied and received threats upon his return to school. He’s finishing the academic year in homeschooling, having joined a growing trend in the state looking for alternatives to the traditional public school system.

His mother, Leah, said in a release from the Liberty Justice Center, “I have raised our son to reject racism in all its forms, but it is the school, not Christian, that injected race into this incident. It appears that this administration would rather destroy its own reputation and the reputation of my son rather than admit they made a mistake.”

Buck Dougherty, senior counsel at Liberty, said in the release, “Even though Christian asked a factual, non-threatening question – about a word the class was discussing – the school board branded him with false accusations of racism. The school has not only violated his constitutional right to free speech, but also his right to due process and his right to access education, a guaranteed right under North Carolina law. We are proud to stand beside Christian and his family in challenging this egregious violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

McGee said Liberty is ready to discuss damages with the school district. A preliminary injunction is being sought that would clear McGhee’s record pending outcome of the litigation so that his quest for scholarships, college admissions and other actions typical of finishing high school and preparing for college will not be impacted.

The firm, which litigates cases on free speech, workers’ rights, education and government overreach, said it is ready to proceed with discovery and move toward a trial.