The Ninth District Court of Appeals this week put to rest the First Amendment suit filed on behalf of a group of Kountze Independent School District cheerleaders. Parents of the cheerleaders sued the district and its former superintendent, Kevin Weldon, after Weldon issued a decree that prohibited the cheerleaders from including religiously-themed messages on run-through banners used at the beginning of school football games. After a combined hearing on multiple motions, including Kountze ISD’s plea to the jurisdiction, the trial court denied Kountze ISD’s plea to the jurisdiction and granted a partial judgment in favor of the district.
Kountze ISD appealed the trial court’s denial of its plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the trial court erred because the parents’ claims were moot and the trial court, therefore, lacked jurisdiction over parents’ claims. After review, the appeals court agreed with the district that the parents’ constitutional claims and statutory claims under chapters 106 and 110 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code have been rendered moot.
According to the court, the parents brought this suit so their children could continue to display religiously-themed messages on run-through banners at school football games. The case became moot because the district adopted a new policy that allows student cheerleaders to display religious content on the run-through banners. On April 8, 2013, the Kountze ISD Board of Trustees adopted Resolution and Order No. 3, which states, in part, that school personnel are not required to prohibit messages on school banners, including run-through banners that display fleeting expressions of community sentiment solely because the source or origin of such messages is religious. The resolution was distributed to all campus principals, who were to instruct all campus principals “to distribute [the new policy] to the athletic director, the coaches of the various sports teams, and the Cheerleader Squad sponsors.” Kountze ISD also made certain judicial admissions in the pending litigation to affirm its new policy and its future intentions regarding religious content on the run-through banners. This all rendered the case moot.
Finding no exception to the mootness doctrine in this case, the court of appeals reversed the trial court order and rendered judgment in favor of the district. In doing so, the court also vacated the October 18, 2012 temporary injunction which prohibited Kountze ISD, Weldon, and others associated with Kountze ISD, from preventing members of the Kountze Cheerleading Squad from displaying run-through banners “containing expressions of a religious viewpoint at sporting events.” Still pending are the parties’ claims for attorney’s fees.
This is an interesting turn of events for Kountze ISD thanks to proactive legal strategy on the part of the district. Rather than decide the constitutionality of the district’s actions, the court found that there was no longer a controversy to decide.
For the full opinion, click here:
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