In settlement, siblings allowed to return to Florida school after it forced them to transfer ‘to spite the mother’

A Florida school district will amend its student reassignment policy to include an appeal procedure as part of the negotiated settlement from a lawsuit brought by the parents of two students, according to the Tampa Bay Times. 

The Pasco County school district’s current policy allows the district to “reassign” students to other schools with no opportunity to appeal.  

Parents Rebecca and Richard Yuengling brought a suit claiming violations of due process and free speech rights after their daughter was reassigned by district administration from Cypress Creek High School to Sunlake High School in January.  

The reassignment was decided by district superintendent Kurt Browning after the mother, Rebecca, had publicly opposed a controversial gender questionnaire that was given to students. 

The questionnaire asked students if they had preferred names and gender pronouns, whether teachers could use those names and pronouns, as well as whether teachers could use those names and pronouns with other staff and, notably, the students’ own caregivers.  

Yuengling’s protest reportedly included multiple emails, phone calls, and social media posts regarding the student questionnaire. 

In response, Browning reassigned the 14-year-old student to another high school in the district halfway through the school year. Additionally, the Yuenglings were informed that their 8th grade son would not be permitted to attend the school in the coming fall semester.  

Attorney Jonathan O’Brien argued that Browning was in violation of the Constitution by retaliating against Yuengling’s free speech and punishing her child, as well as for not allowing the Yuenglings to pursue an appeal process to the decision.  

“Superintendent Kurt Browning illegally bounced two minor children from their zoned local public school, to spite the mother,” O’Brien tweeted in August. “‘The children did nothing wrong’ he [Brown] admitted on cross [examination].” 

Further, no request was made for an independent hearing officer to evaluate the family’s claim, which was a provision in the student code of conduct. The district claimed that the Yuenglings requested a review of their case by the school board, but the request was denied as it was not part of the district’s policy. 

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven agreed that the reassignment policy should include an appeal process. The settlement that followed now allows the Yuenglings’ children to attend Cypress Creek once again. In addition, the school district is making preparations to amend the policy to include an avenue of appeal in non-disciplinary student reassignment situations. 

The request for a temporary injunction against the district and Browning was dismissed in light of the settlement. However, Rebecca Yuengling has indicated that she plans to pursue further court action and to amend the case by adding more concerned parents who share her perspective. 

“I plan to continue in court,” she said, according to The Tampa Bay Times, “and I will be amending (the case) to add more people to the complaint.” 

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