ACLU charges ISD with restricting free speech

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

John Kusterbeck, founder of Princeton TX Diverse, said his city’s Pride event, originally scheduled for June 29, has been canceled for now because the venue they had intended to use has canceled the contract.

Pride was scheduled to return to Princeton ISD’s high school, but the school district canceled use of the venue for two reasons: the organization failed to include a disclaimer and it has been distributing banned books.

The ACLU has filed a complaint on behalf of the group based on the fact that the group has consistently included a disclaimer in promotional materials that the event is not sponsored by the school district and the fact there is no list of banned books.

Princeton is a fast-growing Metroplex suburb, located 30 miles northeast of Dallas near the center of Collin County. The population at the time of the 2010 census was just over 6,000. Today it is about 26,000. And that population includes a large number of LGBTQ residents.

Several hundred people attended last year’s Pride celebration that took place in a Princeton ISD school, organizers said.

Because the first Pride event was so successful, Kusterbeck reserved the school for this year’s Pride. But then he received a letter from Princeton ISD Superintendent Donald McIntyre canceling the agreement.

“Board policy,” McIntyre wrote, “clearly states that any and all communications with the public by the lessee shall clearly state the event is not sponsored by the district as well as identify the nature of the activity and sponsoring organization.”

Kusterbeck was careful to include a disclaimer on all information about Pride. However, in a Facebook post after the event thanking the board president for her support, no disclaimer was attached. The post was facetious since the board president had done everything she could to NOT support the group.

“Therefore, based on this information and the terms of the agreement that specifically provided that ‘violation(s) of rules and regulations for use of district facilities may result in permanent cancellation of the non-school user’s use of district facilities,’ you and Princeton TX Diverse are no longer able to rent and utilize district facilities,” McIntyre wrote.

In its complaint against the school district, the ACLU found that the policy has not affected the relationship between Princeton ISD and several churches that meet on school property.

“For example, the Heart+Soul Church hosts worship services at Princeton High School and has often failed to include the required disclaimer in its social media post about these events, even when prominently advertising that its services take place on district property,” the ACLU wrote in its complaint. Examples from three

Instagram posts accompany the assertion.

The church lists the address of Princeton High School as the place where the church worships, but there is no disclaimer.

Holy Ghost Ministry holds services at Southard Middle School and has a physical sign announcing the location of its services. Missing from the sign is the required disclaimer.

Faith Baptist Church held a National Day of Prayer celebration at Lovelady High School, which it promoted on Facebook. No disclaimer ran on the Facebook page or the event registration page, the ACLU found.

Faith Baptist Church charged from $25 to $800 to reserve seats and tables at the event. That is a clear violation of Princeton ISD’s prohibition on charging admission to events on their property.

In its complaint, the ACLU notes that it is not asking the school district to cancel use of its buildings by these churches. Instead, the ACLU simply wants Kusterbeck and Princeton TX Diverse to be treated equally.

In addition, the school district charged Kusterbeck and Lee with distributing “inappropriate material at a Lion’s Club event” that took place on school property.
“Specifically, it has come to my attention that you had a basket of ‘banned books’ with inappropriate reading materials for children under the Princeton ISD Board Policies and intended to award this basket to winners of the coloring contest,” McIntyre wrote in a separate letter.

Among the “banned books” were And Tango Makes Three, the true story of two male penguins who hatched an abandoned egg and raised the chick at the Central Park Zoo in New York.

So Kusterbeck filed a “Request for Information” form: “I would like a list of all books that have officially been banned from Princeton ISD libraries,” he requested under “Public information requested.”

In responding, Officer for Public Information Jean Ann Collins checked off a box that read, “The information you requested does not exist.”

Despite a banned book list not existing, McIntyre threatened to have Kusterbeck and Lee removed from any school property and charged with criminal trespass.

“The district’s letter fails to explain what board policies were violated, if any, by the distribution of so-called ‘banned books’ when no books are actually banned by the district,” the ACLU pointed out.

Kusterbeck noted that on the most extensive banned book lists circulating and being cited around the state, more than half of the books challenged have LGBTQ or racial content. However, the Bible is also included on the lists on the grounds that it includes violent and sexual content. Yet at the city’s Onion Festival, which took place on school grounds, one vendor distributed Bibles.

In addition to asking for an apology, the ACLU requested that Princeton ISD “immediately reverse your decisions to terminate PTX Diverse, Mr. Kusterbeck’s and Ms.

Lee’s equal access to Princeton ISD facilities, including their ability to serve as vendors and to rent district property, in accordance with each of the neutral rules established by the district.”

They also request, “that you provide training to all district personnel on the First Amendment and on LGBTQIA+ cultural sensitivity.”