Cidney Fisk Sues the Delta County School District

Cidney Fisk, speaking at California Freethought Day last fall

Cidney Fisk filed a lawsuit (pdf) Monday, September 25, 2017, against the Delta County Joint School District 50J for sabotaging her grades and college scholarship opportunities because of opinions she expressed publicly while in their school system, and due to her atheistic beliefs. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for economic and emotional distress.

Cidney appeared on the front page of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel on April 1, 2016, criticizing the Delta County School District (DCSD) for persistent Christian proselytizing on school grounds during school hours. After she was quoted in the paper, her counselors threatened to tank her college scholarships and her teachers gave her failing grades. Cidney was an A+ student throughout her time in high school, was on the debate team, served in student government as treasurer, wrote for the school paper and had amassed over 400 hours of community service by the time she was a senior.

Pervasive Proselytizing in the Delta County School District

Thanks in large part to Cidney speaking out, the proselytizing inside the Delta County School District drew scrutiny from local news outlets, more people started speaking out about it and it became well-documented.

Dan Dunham, the DMS teacher who held bible classes in his classroom, and gave students who attended free doughnuts

The Delta County School District facilitated the distribution of Gideon bibles to students on school grounds during class time, and brought in controversial abstinence-only-before-marriage Christian missionary Shelly Donahue to give “sex ed” talks to high school students. Donahue’s talk violated state law regarding the teaching of sex ed because Donahue omitted mandatory information on topics like sexually transmitted diseases and the use and side effects of various contraceptive methods. Donahue’s talks were funded by the Delta Pregnancy Resource Center, a Christian missionary group operated by Delta Christian Church. Delta High School allowed youth pastors to roam the halls during school hours, and allowed the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to meet during class time. A student at Delta Middle School revealed that her public school forced her to watch a play about the baby Jesus at Christmas time, even though she said she felt it was inappropriate and asked to opt out. Delta Middle School also allowed a teacher, Dan Dunham, to hold bible classes in his own classroom and give doughnuts to the students who showed up. The sessions were called “Doughnuts with Dunham.” The school put a stop to “Doughnuts with Dunham” only after the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened the District with legal action over it. The bible sessions in Dunham’s classroom on Wednesday mornings ended, but after the threat passed they resumed in a different room, on a different day and led by a different person, and doughnuts remained a feature of the meetings. The family of a middle school student also complained to Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers that a Delta Middle School teacher quoted the bible in class, told her class that “non Christians are bad people,” and “The bombers aren’t Christians.” After the student questioned the teacher’s pronouncements and protested other incidents of proselytizing on school grounds during class time, the family started being harassed. Their home was TP’ed and the student received a credible death threat.  That family moved out of state to prevent their daughter from having to attend Delta High School and face both more proselytizing and retaliation for complaining about it.

Cidney and her family have been similarly harassed. The many ways the DCSD violated Cidney’s rights, and those of other public school students, is also documented at this link.

DMS teacher Jime Charlesworth, who told her class that “non Christians are bad people.”

Here are additional links on the subject of the Delta County School District:

What it’s Like to be a Student with a Brain in the Delta County School District, July 20, 2016

Delta County School Board Rips Off Kids, April 9, 2016

The Delta County School District Has Lots to Answer For, March 30, 2016

Freedom From Religion Foundation Warns Delta County School District About Illegal Proselytizing, January 7, 2016

Delta County “Sex Ed” Teacher Shelly Donahue Banned from Oklahoma School District, Marsh 25, 2017

Letter from Freedom From Religion Foundation to Delta County School District about Multiple First Amendment Violations, January 6, 2016 (pdf)

Text of the lawsuit Fisk vs. Delta County Joint School District 50J, filed 9/25/17 in U.S. District Court (pdf)

  13 comments for “Cidney Fisk Sues the Delta County School District

  1. I stand with Cidney every person is entitled to his/her own opinion and they have the freedom to voice their opinion. For Ms Fisk to have several situations where it appears she was singled out is beyond unfair. What about her fellow students whom voiced their opinions? Were they not punished simply for the fact they may or may not have claimed a religion as opposed to saying they were Atheists, too?

    • Cheltse, another student in the Delta County School District was singled out for punishment by school officials as well. That student attended Delta Middle School and complained that her teachers forced her to watch a nativity play about the baby Jesus at Christmastime despite her asking not to have to watch it because it was inappropriate. She also complained when one of her teachers quoted the bible in class and told the class “the bombers aren’t Christians.” She also reported that Gideon bibles were being handed out to students in her class on campus during class time, and provided a photo of the piles of bibles. The student got harassed by students, teachers and school administrators.

      That family moved to another state to get their daughter out of the Delta County School District and into a public school district that doesn’t promote religion.

      • Having heard anecdotal rumors of the particular mind set (putting it charitably) of the Delta County Schools, the Fisk case brought to light exactly how serious this case is. And your other example shows how ingrained and endemic their philosophy is. Thank you for your service is bring this to light on your blog. Both Huffington Post and Reuters have featured it in their news streams. I will provide updates on how this goes down.

  2. I have reviewed this lawsuit and think that some things must be addressed. I address these not directly to the authors of the lawsuit but more to the public as we tackle the difficult question of religion, public education and the freedom of speech given to all of us.

    I will start with Section B. I am referencing the well-referenced document given in the URL below to understand what the courts have and haven’t decided regarding religion in public schools. I understand that this document is from a religious source (the Anti-defamation league) but that doesn’t mean it as inaccurate:

    I will address the Items in Section B in order:

    Section B, Item 29 relates to the establishment of a “Christian Fellowship” club which met during “school hours”. When I attended Delta High School, the club met in the morning before class was in session. Is that not the case now? Was this a meeting of the club’s officers to discuss the club or was this an actual prayer meeting that occurred while class was in session? It looks like the courts have said that such a meeting may be held during “non-instructional time” which includes lunch periods or “an activity period … during which other clubs are allowed to meet.” I think we need more details here to know if constitutional law was violated. See the section ‘Student Initiated Religious Clubs” in the ADL document cited above. Also, a teacher is allowed to attend these meetings but may not pray with the students. The group also must be organized by students.

    Section B, Item 30 says that youth pastors were allowed into the school during lunch periods to discuss joining a club. It is important to note that this occurred at a meeting which Ms. Fisk attended voluntarily. Again, according to the document cited above (which is referencing a decided court case): “Outsiders may occasionally attend club meetings if invited by the students and if the school does not generally prohibit such guests. However, school officials may totally forbid non-school persons from attending all student club meetings.” As shown above, the fact this occurred during lunch time is not an issue. See the section ‘Student Initiated Religious Clubs” in the ADL document cited above.

    Section B, Item 31 says that the school allowed a church to worship in the cafeteria during the weekend. According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation itself, this is not an issue.

    Section B, Item 32 says that teachers openly expressed Christian beliefs, views and attendance in class. This is tricky because we don’t know what was said in the classroom at that time and I can’t find any court cases related to what a teacher can specifically state regarding their own personal religion. My gut instinct says that to say you are a “christian” is not an endorsement but just a statement of your own personal belief. I can say that in the two years during which I had Mr. Ames never did I hear him endorse Christianity or preach Christianity. That is my own experience but this item comes down to a matter of “he said, she said” anyway.

    Section B, Item 33 involves the members of the school board openly expressed Christian beliefs in school board meetings. It looks like, according to the law, a school board meeting is held under the same scrutiny as a public classroom. As such, I am uncertain to the legality of their statements. I do question the need to point out the private religious activities of the school board members. Does being religious exclude you from participation in the school board?

    Section B, Item 34 involves the distribution of bibles by the Gideons. To quote the ADL document cited above “One decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit allowed for
    “passive” distribution of Bibles from a third party. However, under the relevant policy, teachers
    or other school personnel could have no active or passive involvement with the distribution,
    including having no custody over the Bibles. Additionally, the policy placed numerous other
    restrictions on the distribution.” (as found in the section titled DISTRIBUTION OF RELIGIOUS
    MATERIALS & PROSELYTIZING BY OUTSIDE GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS). So, this could or could not be legal depending on if they met the requirements set by the fourth circuit court.

    Section B, Item 35 talks about a middle school before school program where prayer was conducted with a teacher. This was probably an issue, given that it sounds like the teacher conducted the prayer and the fact it was in middle school. But this was discontinued due to the intervention of the FFRF so does it apply here? Was Ms. Fisk directly a part of this worship service? If not, why does she seek personal damages for an action that had nothing to do with her?

    Those are all of the items under the claims that Delta High School permitted, encouraged and supported religious activities. I will not address section A because I don’t see how Ms. Fisk’s academic credentials apply to this case at all. Maybe to show that her grades her Senior year were lower than average?

    Most of the items in Section C I will not address because that will just come down to what the witnesses say. If everything in the statements of Section C is true than I would say that Ms. Fisk was treated unfairly.

    With regards to the first of the two religious speakers, I have always thought that Delta High School needs to move away from the abstinence only education. I might believe that abstinence is a good practice but sex ed is still necessary for those who will not choose abstinence. Regarding the Navy Seal, the question is “was a religious viewpoint expressed during his presentation?” If so, that is a problem. If not, then he should not be excluded from speaking because of his beliefs and I do not see an infringement of student rights. He might not know as much about drug abuse when compared to an “expert”, but I think a freshman in high school will probably pay much more attention to a retired Navy Seal rather than some boring “expert” speaker.

    That is all I have to say about this lawsuit. I will respond to fact-based responses.

    Finally, I don’t see how the actions of a few individuals indicate that an entire county of people is “backward” and “narrow-minded”. I know too many good, kind, inclusive people from Delta County to agree with such statements.

  3. As a resident abd a activist in Delta County, I plan to attend the next board meeting (they held an executive session Sept 29 – wonder why) and demand the immediatr suspension of each teacher involved and each high school administrator with supposed oversight. The Board itself should resign. These three Western Colorado counties Mesa, Delta, and Montrose) areva hotbed of Tea Partyism/Trumpism, the KKK, right wing evangelism, along thr lines of this situation. Much thanks to Ms. Fisk and her courageous parents.

    • Hugh, you are going to demand the suspension of multiple people with no evidence of wrongdoing?

      These are allegations, not facts. Your knee jerk reaction and accusatory rant regarding the three counties suggests you lack critical thinking skills.

      This will most likely be settled out of court. Ms. Fisk will get some money out of it, which was most likely the goal all along.

      • She deserves money if they screwed with her grade, scholarships & application to the National Honors Society.
        There is no way too know how much money they’ve cost her over her lifetime with their sabotage, harassment & bullying.
        She deserves millions.

  4. Religion poisons everything. Christian terrorism
    Is getting worse in America which, I believe will lead to a civil war eventually.
    What Ms. Fisk is going through is typical anywhere in the Middle East and it’s this kind of terrorism that brought down the twin towers in New York, what our country is fighting against and yet here it is very obvious in every city in every state even in our government.

  5. It’s shocking that Delta Co can be so backwards and narrow minded. It’s shocking that Delta County shows no respect for the constitutional principles that make America great.

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