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Student Wins Preliminary Injunction Appeal Over Party Invites

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 13, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction this week against a Pennsylvania school district that said bah-humbug to a fifth-grader who wanted to invite her classmates to a Christmas party.

According to the appellate court, the invites passed the Tinker test because there was "no evidence that distribution of the invitations would threaten a substantial disruption of the school environment or interfere with the rights of others.

In 2010, K.A., a fifth-grader at Barrett Elementary Center in the Pocono Mountain School District, attempted to hand out invitations to a Christmas party at her church before the start of class. The church had prepared the flyer advertising the party. K.A. claims that she wanted to hand out the invitations to share her religious faith with her classmates.

Barrett Elementary students are normally allowed to pass out invitations to birthday parties, Halloween parties, Valentine's dances, and the like during non-instructional time, but K.A.'s teacher told her that the principal would have to approve the flyer before she could distribute it. When K.A.'s father contacted the principal, she explained that the superintendent would have to give the go-ahead. When the superintendent declined, K.A. sued.

The district court analyzed the School District's refusal to allow K.A. to distribute the flyers under the test established by Tinker, specifically considering whether the school district's decision was justified by "a specific and significant fear of disruption, not just some remote apprehension of disturbance."

Finding none, the court granted K.A.'s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The Third Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction, finding:

  1. It is reasonably likely that K.A. will prevail in this litigation.
  2. K.A. will suffer irreparable injury without an injunction.
  3. The injunction does not harm the school district.
  4. The injunctive relief here is in the public interest because the enforcement of an unconstitutional law vindicates no public interest.

It's too late for K.A. to invite her classmates to her church Christmas party, but there's still plenty of time for K.A. and the school district to get down in court. Like we always say: Ain't no party like a litigation party 'cause a litigation party don't stop can last years.

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