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District to pay $42,665 to settle lawsuit over expulsion of Northwest Arkansas student

by Bill Bowden | February 23, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.

The Huntsville School District will pay $42,665 to settle a federal lawsuit over a student's expulsion.

But Kylan Pierce will remain expelled for the full 365 days, according to the settlement agreement, which Charles Harwell, the school district's attorney, provided under an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.

"The parties desire to resolve their differences and thereby avoid the necessity of any additional expenses of litigation going forward," according to the agreement.

The defendants -- the School District and Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix -- "deny any wrongdoing whatsoever," according to the settlement.

Jessica McKinney filed suit in April after her son, a junior, was expelled March 5 for posting a photograph of himself on Instagram holding an assault-style weapon and wearing a trench coat.

It was free speech, according to the lawsuit -- Pierce was just emulating a 1920s gangster.

He posted the photo on Instagram while at his father's house in Rogers on Feb. 24, 2018 -- 10 days after a school shooting left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., according to the lawsuit.

The next morning, when Pierce saw some of the comments others had posted under the photo, he deleted the post.

One student had written: "When I drop my pencil, start shooting," according to the lawsuit. Another wrote "school shooter meme."

Pierce posted no words on Instagram with the photo.

The Instagram post disrupted school the following Monday, Feb. 26, according to court filings. Some teachers and students were afraid to go to school that day, and some parents were afraid to send their children to school.

The School Board met March 5 and expelled Pierce, but he was allowed to take core courses online.

Enix wrote that Pierce was expelled for "terroristic threatening of school shooting posts on social media," according to the lawsuit.

"The expulsion at issue was reasonably and rationally related to the school administrator's vital mission to keep students and teachers safe and to maintain order and normal operations within the educational institution," according to a motion filed by the school district's attorneys, Harwell and Matthew L. Fryar, whose offices are in Springdale.

McKinney's lawsuit also alleged defamation and deprivation of due process.

The Huntsville School Board voted Jan. 28 to accept the settlement.

A filing Friday in United States District Court in Fayetteville indicated the case had been dismissed "with prejudice," which means it's a final judgment and the plaintiff can't file another case on the same claim. The case was scheduled for trial in July.

Pierce was a minor when the lawsuit was filed and is referred to as K.P. in that document. He is now an adult and was referred to as K.P. and Kylan Pierce in the settlement agreement.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Monzer Mansour of Fayetteville and W. Whitfield Hyman of Fort Smith on behalf of McKinney. They initially requested a jury trial, that the expulsion be overturned and punitive damages.

The $42,665 is to be paid by the School District's insurer by one check made payable to Pierce and Mansour, according to the settlement agreement.

Nobody involved in the settlement is allowed to talk to the media about it, according to the document.

According to a transcript of the expulsion hearing, McKinney told the School Board that her son is a "model student." He has "almost perfect grades," has no discipline issues, has a perfect attendance record and is getting scholarship offers to run track in college, she said.

"All I have to say is this is going to have huge repercussions for his future, and it's not right to make an example out of him when he's a star student and there's plenty of people doing worse things," McKinney said, according to the transcript.

Pierce had replaced the photo Feb. 25 with one in which he was wearing the trench coat but not holding a gun, according to a court filing. In the caption under the new photo, Pierce wrote that "nothing bad was intended" with his previous post.

"I'm an ambitious, young enterprising individual, who wouldn't throw my future away for something as pointless as a school shooting," he wrote under the photo. "If I wanted to make an impact I would choose a much more high profile crowd th[a]n a bunch of hicks and jocks who are never going to be anything of particular value."

State Desk on 02/23/2019

Print Headline: District to pay $42,665 to settle lawsuit over expulsion of Northwest Arkansas student

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