Documents filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri indicate the videotaped depositions will be taken beginning 8:30 a.m. Friday, March 4, at the offices of the law firm representing the district, Blanchard, Robertson, Mitchell, and Carter P. C. The notice leaves an option to take the deposition at a different time if next Friday is inconvenient.
The notice does not name specific school officials, but requires the district "to designate, and fully prepare, one or more officers, directors, managing agents, or other persons with the most knowledge concerning the following designated matters; or other persons who consent to testify on behalf of the Joplin School District,"
The topics for the questioning are spelled out in the documents:
1. The history of trips by students from schools in Defendant Joplin School District to Victory Ministry and Sports Complex (hereinafter “Victory”) and its predecessor entity (believed to be “The Bridge”), including the number of such trips, the dates of such trips, the schools and classes involved in such trips, the faculty involved in arranging and chaperoning such trips, and related information.
2. The activities that took place (including but not limited to religious activities such as group prayers and worship), as known to the Joplin School District, on each of the trips identified in No. 1.
3. The planning and conducting of the trip to Victory that is the subject matter of Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint, including the identity and actions of all persons involved in (1) the decision-making process that led to the trip; (2) making all arrangements relating to the trip; (3) processing paperwork and payment; and, (4) chaperoning the students and otherwise participating in the trip itself .
4. Defendant’s policies or practices, from 2005 to present, with regard to school trips to venues that are operated for the purpose of promoting a particular religion or religious viewpoint.
5. The role played by each individual involved in the decision to send students to Victory as alleged in Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint.
6. Any and all complaints received by the Joplin School District or any of the defendants, or their agents or employees, with regard to possible or alleged Establishment Clause or religious freedom violations, issues involving religion in the school environment, etc., from 2010 to present.
7. Communications, written or otherwise, between any Victory (or any of its agents or representatives) and the Joplin School District (or any of its agents or representatives) or the other individual defendants, relating in any way to the subject of trips (or possible trips) by students to Victory.
8. The subject matter of interrogatories propounded to the defendants in this case.
9. All documents requested by Plaintiffs pursuant to Rule 34 or produced by Defendants in response to such requests.
On or about May 8, 2015, a class field trip of students from North Middle was taken, during regular school hours, to a facility owned and operated by a Christian ministry. The facility in question is known as Victory Ministries and Sports Complex, and is located in Joplin, Missouri.
Victory Ministries and Sports Complex (hereinafter “Victory”) is a Christian facility that operates for three stated purposes that are expressed on its web site: “Exalt Jesus,” and “Expand the Kingdom of God,” and “Equip the Body of Christ.”
The same web page states Victory’s goals, which include: “Keep Jesus central in everything we do,” and “Have God-honoring entertainment,” and other religious goals. Christian imagery is prominent at the Victory facility. Most, if not all signs that include the “Victory” name at the facility utilize a Christian cross as the “t” in the word “Victory.”
A large banner that exalts Jesus is visible at the Victory gym. The banner, which states “Jesus is worthy of it all!” is placed high on the wall of the gym, above approximately ten other banners, many of which also contain religious messages. One banner, for example, reads “ Worship” whereas another states: “Hope. The confident expectation that what God has promised is true.”
Prior to the field trip, permission slips were sent home to parents for the school field trip to Victory. Doe child I was given a permission slip for Plaintiff Jane Doe to sign. The permission slip for parents to sign in order to allow students to attend the field trip expressly stated that parents understand that their children may be invited to Bible studies and local churches while at Victory. The same permission slip, in paragraph number 6, required parents to allow their child to participate in “worship services, Bible studies or any other activities that may pertain to the Christian faith.”
On May 5, 2015, an email was sent by American Humanist Association (“AHA”), a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization, to Defendants Huff and Eggleston warning them that a North Middle School parent had raised concerns about the planned field trip and pointing out that the trip would violate the Establishment Clause. That same day, Defendant Huff responded to AHA’s email with an email of his own denying that the trip violated the Establishment Clause but admitting that the permission slip was inappropriately worded.
Also that same day, in response to Defendant Huff’s email, the AHA sent a second email to Defendants, drawing specific attention to the religious nature of the Victory operation and warning that the field trip would result in litigation.
Defendants did not respond to said email, and in fact, the trip was conducted on or about May 8. Doe child I did not participate in the field trip, which was conducted during an ordinary school day. Plaintiff Jane Doe, faced with the choice of an unconstitutional field trip or no school for her child for the day, kept Doe child I out of school. As such, Doe child I was denied a full day of academics due to Defendants’ actions. If Doe child I had participated in the field trip, Doe child I would have been exposed to Christian messages that directly contradict the religious beliefs of Plaintiff Jane Doe and Doe child I.
The field trip has given the impression to a reasonable observer that the public school endorses Christianity. Doe child I was put in the position of having to choose to attend a religious school-sponsored event or forgo participation entirely. Public school resources, including paid personnel time and other resources, which were paid for by tax monies, were expended in planning and conducting the field trip to Victory.
The lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction against any further trips to Victory Sports Complex or any other religious-based venues, a judgement that Huff and Eggleston have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and damages and punitive damages against Huff and Eggleston for violating the children's constitutional rights.
The woman is being allowed to file the lawsuit as Jane Doe after a ruling by Judge Douglas Harpool. Her attorney argued that she might be subjected to retaliation if people knew who she was.
Former Superintendent C. J. Huff was initially named as a defendant, but after he "retired," his replacement, Norm Ridder, was substituted.