Law Update

Court Rebuffs Cheerleaders’ Case Challenging Discipline for Drinking

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Two cheerleaders who sued a Missouri school district after being accused of drinking vodka before a high school football game found little to cheer about in a recent ruling by a federal appeals court.

The girls, who were both members of the varsity cheerleading squad at Holt High School in Wentzville, Mo., received 10-day suspensions for allegedly disobeying the school’s no-alcohol policy in late August 2002.

The following month, Rachel Jennings and Lauren Schwaigert and their parents filed a lawsuit claiming that the 7,800-student district had violated the girls’ constitutional rights to liberty and due process under the law by bungling its handling of the incident.

A federal magistrate judge in St. Louis threw out their suit without a trial, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in that city unanimously upheld the ruling on Feb. 16.

One bone of contention was the decision by the school’s cheerleading coach to hold a late-night meeting with the accused girls and other squad members to discuss the allegations. Concluding that the teacher had used bad judgment, school officials later removed her as coach. It later surfaced that the teacher had not completed the district’s full training program on student discipline, court papers show.

Still, the appeals court said those lapses fell far short of showing that the district had been deliberately indifferent to the girls’ rights, as the families had argued.

“That a particular teacher, or cheerleading adviser, might be unsatisfactorily trained does not alone suffice to represent district policy and make the district liable,” the panel said.

Vol. 24, Issue 28, Page 11

Published in Print: March 23, 2005, as Court Rebuffs Cheerleaders’ Case Challenging Discipline for Drinking

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