A North Dakota student said his classmate shouldn’t wear a gay pride flag. Now he's suing his school.
Kenmare Public School determined a student sexually harassed a classmate, a federal lawsuit said. The student wasn’t being anti-gay but was pointing out a school policy violation, his attorney said.
KENMARE, N.D. — A student has sued his northwest North Dakota school after educators found he sexually harassed a classmate when he said she shouldn’t be allowed to wear a gay pride flag to class.
A parent alleged in federal court documents that Kenmare Public School violated his son’s civil rights when it found the then-freshman to be at fault in a Title IX complaint filed against him in October 2021. The federal lawsuit filed Friday, Feb. 10, in North Dakota said the boy, who was identified by his initials in court documents, suffered academically, emotionally, mentally, financially and athletically because of the school.
“Due to Kenmare’s actions, (the student) will be required to disclose to all potential universities of the Title IX violation on his record; resulting in decreased educational and scholarship opportunities for (the student),” the complaint said.
The federal lawsuit details an exchange between students during the 2021 homecoming week at Kenmare. Sept. 22, 2021, was designated “Honkers Pride Day,” and students were asked to wear gold and maroon to show school pride, the federal lawsuit said.
Kenmare’s mascot is a Honker, or a Canada goose.
When a female student came into math class wearing a rainbow gay pride flag like a cape, the male student said, “This is Honker Spirit Day, not gay pride day,” according to the complaint. The male student also told another student that the girl shouldn’t be allowed to wear the gay pride flag.
The federal lawsuit claimed that Kenmare doesn’t allow students to wear flags or capes. Students also were told not to hang on their lockers an American flag with a blue line in support of law enforcement, the lawsuit claimed.
Kenmare Superintendent Alex Hennix also told The Forum that flags and capes are not mentioned in the handbook.
The lawsuit cites a passage from the handbook that the school doesn’t intend “to limit freedom of expression or communication of ideas, which may be protected by the First Amendment.” The school does prohibit “the wearing of potentially disruptive insignia or apparel, which may create a material and substantial disruption of school activity,” the handbook and lawsuit said.
Kenmare educators did not ask the female student to take the flag off, the lawsuit said.
Court documents alleged that Hennix determined the male student sexually harassed the female student, but the male student denied any wrongdoing.
The female eventually filed the Title IX complaint alleging sexual harassment against several students, including the male student, the federal lawsuit said.
The female student had a right to wear the flag, and the male student had a right to tell her she shouldn't wear the flag, said attorney Keith Altman, who is representing the male student's family. The comments the male student made were not sexual in nature, nor were they severe, pervasive or objectively offensive, the attorney told The Forum.
"The Title IX complaint was a smear campaign," the lawsuit claimed.
Altman denied that the male student was anti-gay. The student was simply pointing out a school policy violation, he said.
“He doesn’t know anything about her sexual orientation,” the lawyer told The Forum.
The lawsuit alleged the school discriminated against the male student due to his gender. It also alleged educators violated his First and 14th Amendment rights.
Hennix declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Kenmare is about 50 miles northwest of Minot. The school has approximately 200 students, according to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.