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Florida State University must pay ex-student leader in ouster for religious views, judge says

A federal judge has ruled that Florida State University must pay the salary of a former campus Senate president who was ousted over his religious views.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor last week ordered FSU to make “prospective payment” for lost wages to former Student Senate President Jack Denton, a senior and political science major who was voted out by his colleagues in June over text messages he exchanged with other Catholic students.

Judge Winsor, a Trump appointee, said the university, which administers the student government, had violated Mr. Denton’s First Amendment rights by failing to protect him against retaliation for his protected speech and should resume paying his stipend until his term’s expiration in November.

“To state the obvious, expressing one’s religious views is a constitutionally protected activity. And being removed from a student Senate presidency, as Denton was, would chill someone from expressing himself,” the judge wrote in his 25-page preliminary ruling in the closely watched religious liberty case.

Judge Winsor compared Mr. Denton’s ouster to the Georgia state legislature refusing to seat newly elected lawmaker Julian Bond in 1966 over his criticism of the Vietnam War. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled the legislature’s move unconstitutional.

“All students should be able to peacefully share their personal connections without fear of retaliation,” said Tyson Langhofer, an attorney with the nonprofit advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom who is representing Mr. Denton.

An FSU spokesperson wrote in email that school officials are reviewing the decision and “considering the university’s options.” An attorney for the Student Senate defendants did not respond to request for comment.

FSU pays the Student Senate president $9 an hour. Mr. Denton told the court that he estimated working six hours a week until the end of his term on Nov. 11. He is to be paid about $216.

The campus Senate removed Mr. Denton in a 38-3 vote in June after critical remarks he had made about the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter came to light.

In a group text message with Catholic Student Union students about the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Denton discouraged others from donating from donating to the ACLU for its support of legal abortion and Black Live Matters for its “queer-affirming” stance. He said those groups — and a Minneapolis organization that promotes defunding law enforcement — promote “grave evils.”

When screen shots of the conversation were made public, the Student Senate began proceedings against Mr. Denton that led to a no-confidence vote against him. One unnamed student senator remarked that she could “think of no more abhorrent thing to hear coming from our Senate leadership,” according to court filings.

In his order, Judge Winsor declined to reinstate Mr. Denton, saying such a move could “produce tumult and chaos.” But the judge belittled the student senators’ reaction, writing that the Senate was “beside itself” over the plaintiff’s “expression of Catholic views.”

FSU attorneys had asked that Mr. Denton’s lawsuit be dismissed, saying his

Genesee County ISD special education funding formula violates state law, judge says

FLINT, MI — The formula used to funnel some special education dollars through the Genesee Intermediate School Distrct to local districts violates state law, an administrative law judge has said.

For Flint schools, this could mean the district will get more special education funding because it has a higher than average percentage of special education students. It also could mean less money for school districts with a high total student count but lower percentage of special education students, like Grand Blanc Community Schools.

As it currently stands, the GISD Mandatory Plan appropriates $3.8 million of Act 18 special education funds back to local districts based on a three-part formula: 1. Total special education headcount 2. Full-time-equivalent (FTE) special education student head count 3. Total FTE headcount. FTE head count is adjusted for part-time student numbers. These three factors are currently equally weighted.

However, Administrative Law Judge Michael St. John in a Friday, Oct 9 recommendation to State Superintendent Michael Rice, said this formula should change.

Residents challenge officials to change special education funding to benefit Flint schools

The Flint Community School district has said it is unfair to include total FTE as one third of the formula because it disadvantages the city district, which once was the largest in the county but has since lost ground to suburban districts.

GISD Superintendent Lisa Hagel testified that all three factors, including FTE, are of equal importance.

“However, the funding formula does not provide equal funding for the three factors,” St. John wrote in his recommendation. “Because the three numbers are simply averaged together, the larger number of FTE students dwarfs the smaller SEHC number and substantially dwarfs the much smaller SEFTE number. Rather than using relative percentages of each factor, they are simply added together and then divided. FTE therefore dominates both the numerator and the denominator in the current formula resulting in a skewed distribution of funds.”

St. John added that Hagel’s concern that altering the plan would result in less money for some special education students in some districts was also “heartfelt and entirely legitimate.”

The current GISD plan is in violation of state law because it does not meet the individual needs of each student with a disability, particularly those special education students attending Flint Community Schools, St. John wrote. He said the plan is also arbitrary and capricious.

However, he did not suggest removing FTE entirely as a factor for allocation of funds. Instead, St. John suggested weighting the three factors to ensure that the total student count in a district does not outweigh the number of special education students.

“It is the sincere hope of the Administrative Law Judge that the parties can come together to work through their differences toward their common goal of educating all students in Genesee County,” St. John wrote.

The GISD appreciates the thoughtful review and recommendation made by Administrative Law Judge St. John to State Superintendent Rice, GISD Associate Superintendent Steven Tunnicliff said in a statement to MLive/The Flint Journal.