Suspensions revoked for teen who preached at Cascade High School

EVERETT — A Cascade High School senior who was suspended three times for loudly preaching at the school has had his suspensions erased from his record by a federal judge.

The student, Michael Leal, was disciplined after several incidents at the school where he handed out religious pamphlets and preached, sometimes using a bullhorn.

He filed suit in November against Everett Public Schools, Superintendent Gary Cohn, Cascade Principal Cathy Woods and two assistant principals, claiming his constitutional right of free speech was being infringed by the school’s actions and the district’s policies.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly on Friday upheld the school district’s policy that limits when and where Leal or any other student can hand out printed materials. The district’s rules state that students can only do so before or after the hours of instruction, and only outside the entrances of the school.

The judge tossed out a part of that policy that requires the printed material to have been written or produced by the student.

“The court found that was unconstitutional because he wouldn’t be able to pass out the Constitution or Shakespeare,” said Leal’s attorney, Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in religious discrimination cases.

Leal is still able to preach, provided his preaching does not disrupt instruction.

To accommodate this, the school created a “free speech zone” on campus near the statue of the school’s bear mascot, Snider said, where any student can speak about anything.

As a result, Leal dropped the charges of discrimination against his religion, Snider said.

“He can preach under the bear,” Snider said.

Zilly also expunged Leal’s three suspensions from his record.

Sarah Heineman, the attorney for the school district, said the administration was pleased its policy was upheld.

A decision has not been made, she said, on whether it would appeal Zilly’s ruling stripping the authorship requirement out of the district’s policy.

“That’s not a decision they can make on the fly,” Heineman said.

Snider said that if the district filed an appeal, Leal would consider a cross-appeal, but a decision had not been made.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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