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Danville student settles free-speech lawsuit against SRVUSD, will receive $665,000 and public apology

Case stemmed from discipline for ASB president-elect over controversial 'parody video' in 2017

The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has settled a free-speech lawsuit involving a former student who was disciplined for his part in the creation of a video that at the time had been described as Islamophobic.

As a part of the settlement, the district will award former San Ramon Valley High School student body president Nathaniel Yu $665,000 and will apologize for “negative effects, disruption and emotional distress” suffered by Yu and his family resulting from discipline inflicted on him from the district.

“The landmark settlement figure sends a strong message to public school officials throughout the country that the First Amendment prohibits them from censoring off-campus student speech that does not substantially disrupt school activities,” Frank LoMonte, First Amendment scholar and former Student Press Law Center executive director, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This is especially true in instances such as this where the speech was made on a weekend, entirely off-campus, and with no school resources.”

According to the lawsuit, the school district violated Yu’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment when it disciplined him for his role in creating what Yu's representatives called "a James Bond-style parody video," back in February 2017, during his campaign for student body president.

DanvilleSanRamon.com attempted to obtain a copy of the video when the controversy first arose in 2017 but was unsuccessful. Yu's legal team declined a request to release the video on Tuesday.

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SRVUSD leaders had not responded to a request for comment as of late afternoon Tuesday.

Court documents do include an exhibit with proposed verbiage for Superintendent Rick Schmitt's forthcoming public apology.

"We understand that events that followed were not easy for you and your family. We want to formally acknowledge that, despite various reports on social media and in the press that described the video as 'hate speech,' we do not believe the contents of the video constituted 'hate speech,'" Schmitt's proposed letter reads, in part.

"We further believe that the video did not bully, harass, discriminate against, or threaten anyone. Finally, the video did not portray any sexual content. The district recognizes and regrets the negative consequences associated with mischaracterizations regarding you and the content of the video," the letter added.

The lawsuit describes the video as depicting Yu -- who was a 17-year-old junior at the time -- as a "James Bond-type hero" who rescued a person kidnapped by two members of an "extremist group" who were attempting to force the victim to participate in a video game competition.

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The video was created off-campus at a friend's house on Feb. 4, and according to Yu's attorneys, was an improvised project where "each participant individually developed their characters, improvised their lines without any prior review or consultation, and brought their own props to the off-campus filming location."

The group did not use school property or equipment to create the video, which did not mention SRVHS or the leadership class, and did not feature the school's or leadership class’s name, logo or other indicia.

After uploading the video, Yu was alerted by a fellow student that some individuals may find the video offensive, resulting in Yu promptly requesting that the student who edited the video remove it from YouTube. According to the lawsuit the video was taken down hours prior to when students began casting their ballots on the Feb. 7 election and had only reached approximately 30 views before it was removed.

Yu would go on to win the most votes in the election, but he was initially disqualified from holding the post and removed from the school's leadership class because of the video. However district officials would later reinstate him as ASB president.

"(Yu) and four of his friends stated that the parody’s purpose was to entertain and was not intended to threaten or demean any person, race, or culture," the suit read.

Afterward the district reversed its discipline, but Yu's representatives said the teen continued to face retaliation and public disparagement from other students and district employees -- citing in the lawsuit examples of teachers alerting media, local politicians, local and national Muslim organizations and other officials that Yu mocked and disparaged Muslims.

Another example cited in the lawsuit was two occurrences where his designated parking spot was vandalized with language that mocked his Catholic faith.

“No one should be subjected to what my family and I have been forced to endure. As a child of immigrants, I am constantly reminded that we cannot take our civil rights for granted. We must continue our fight to preserve these rights at all costs,” Yu said in a statement.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled against the school district’s motion to dismiss the case according to Yu's representatives, rejecting SRVUSD's argument that the video constituted school-sponsored speech. Soon thereafter the district proposed to settle after being ordered to release more than 12,000 documents related to the case.

A portion of the most related documents have been released online by Yu's legal team for additional review by the public.

“It was an honor and a privilege to represent Nathaniel and his family in this important First Amendment lawsuit. The defendants punished him for the parody video because they found it ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate.’ The First Amendment, however, prohibits government officials from punishing speakers for speech simply because they subjectively disapprove of its content,” added Yu's lead attorney James Carlos McFall, a Dallas partner at Jackson Walker LLP.

As a part of the settlement, in addition to the cash payout the district is also obligated to post an apology to the school website under the “NEWS” tab within five business days of the filing of the joint motion for stipulated dismissal.

That dismissal document was filed in federal court on Tuesday, according to Yu's attorneys. The public apology had not been posted on the SRVUSD website as of early Tuesday evening.

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Danville student settles free-speech lawsuit against SRVUSD, will receive $665,000 and public apology

Case stemmed from discipline for ASB president-elect over controversial 'parody video' in 2017

by /

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 7, 2020, 6:26 pm

The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has settled a free-speech lawsuit involving a former student who was disciplined for his part in the creation of a video that at the time had been described as Islamophobic.

As a part of the settlement, the district will award former San Ramon Valley High School student body president Nathaniel Yu $665,000 and will apologize for “negative effects, disruption and emotional distress” suffered by Yu and his family resulting from discipline inflicted on him from the district.

“The landmark settlement figure sends a strong message to public school officials throughout the country that the First Amendment prohibits them from censoring off-campus student speech that does not substantially disrupt school activities,” Frank LoMonte, First Amendment scholar and former Student Press Law Center executive director, said in a statement on Tuesday. “This is especially true in instances such as this where the speech was made on a weekend, entirely off-campus, and with no school resources.”

According to the lawsuit, the school district violated Yu’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment when it disciplined him for his role in creating what Yu's representatives called "a James Bond-style parody video," back in February 2017, during his campaign for student body president.

DanvilleSanRamon.com attempted to obtain a copy of the video when the controversy first arose in 2017 but was unsuccessful. Yu's legal team declined a request to release the video on Tuesday.

SRVUSD leaders had not responded to a request for comment as of late afternoon Tuesday.

Court documents do include an exhibit with proposed verbiage for Superintendent Rick Schmitt's forthcoming public apology.

"We understand that events that followed were not easy for you and your family. We want to formally acknowledge that, despite various reports on social media and in the press that described the video as 'hate speech,' we do not believe the contents of the video constituted 'hate speech,'" Schmitt's proposed letter reads, in part.

"We further believe that the video did not bully, harass, discriminate against, or threaten anyone. Finally, the video did not portray any sexual content. The district recognizes and regrets the negative consequences associated with mischaracterizations regarding you and the content of the video," the letter added.

The lawsuit describes the video as depicting Yu -- who was a 17-year-old junior at the time -- as a "James Bond-type hero" who rescued a person kidnapped by two members of an "extremist group" who were attempting to force the victim to participate in a video game competition.

The video was created off-campus at a friend's house on Feb. 4, and according to Yu's attorneys, was an improvised project where "each participant individually developed their characters, improvised their lines without any prior review or consultation, and brought their own props to the off-campus filming location."

The group did not use school property or equipment to create the video, which did not mention SRVHS or the leadership class, and did not feature the school's or leadership class’s name, logo or other indicia.

After uploading the video, Yu was alerted by a fellow student that some individuals may find the video offensive, resulting in Yu promptly requesting that the student who edited the video remove it from YouTube. According to the lawsuit the video was taken down hours prior to when students began casting their ballots on the Feb. 7 election and had only reached approximately 30 views before it was removed.

Yu would go on to win the most votes in the election, but he was initially disqualified from holding the post and removed from the school's leadership class because of the video. However district officials would later reinstate him as ASB president.

"(Yu) and four of his friends stated that the parody’s purpose was to entertain and was not intended to threaten or demean any person, race, or culture," the suit read.

Afterward the district reversed its discipline, but Yu's representatives said the teen continued to face retaliation and public disparagement from other students and district employees -- citing in the lawsuit examples of teachers alerting media, local politicians, local and national Muslim organizations and other officials that Yu mocked and disparaged Muslims.

Another example cited in the lawsuit was two occurrences where his designated parking spot was vandalized with language that mocked his Catholic faith.

“No one should be subjected to what my family and I have been forced to endure. As a child of immigrants, I am constantly reminded that we cannot take our civil rights for granted. We must continue our fight to preserve these rights at all costs,” Yu said in a statement.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled against the school district’s motion to dismiss the case according to Yu's representatives, rejecting SRVUSD's argument that the video constituted school-sponsored speech. Soon thereafter the district proposed to settle after being ordered to release more than 12,000 documents related to the case.

A portion of the most related documents have been released online by Yu's legal team for additional review by the public.

“It was an honor and a privilege to represent Nathaniel and his family in this important First Amendment lawsuit. The defendants punished him for the parody video because they found it ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate.’ The First Amendment, however, prohibits government officials from punishing speakers for speech simply because they subjectively disapprove of its content,” added Yu's lead attorney James Carlos McFall, a Dallas partner at Jackson Walker LLP.

As a part of the settlement, in addition to the cash payout the district is also obligated to post an apology to the school website under the “NEWS” tab within five business days of the filing of the joint motion for stipulated dismissal.

That dismissal document was filed in federal court on Tuesday, according to Yu's attorneys. The public apology had not been posted on the SRVUSD website as of early Tuesday evening.

Comments

Disgusted
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 8:14 pm
Disgusted, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 8:14 pm
37 people like this

Web Link

I read the discovery in the above link and am not surprised that former City Council member Cheryl Cook-Kallio's name appears in the discovery emails in this all over the place. Of course, it looks like it became her personal mission to destroy this student. For what? For a James Bond parody video that a student and his friends made over a weekend one day.

As always, teachers protect their own, but when it comes to students, they target them like the predators that the teachers are.

We should all be grateful that Cook-Kallio never made it to the Assembly, thank goodness.


Michael Austin
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 7, 2020 at 8:43 pm
Michael Austin, Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 7, 2020 at 8:43 pm
22 people like this

Disgusted:
I totally agree.
However, the assembly is currently swarmed with Cook-Kallio look-A-likes.


FrequentWalkerMiles
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 9:07 pm
FrequentWalkerMiles, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 9:07 pm
26 people like this

Cook is just one of hundreds of people who wanted to bury this kid, looking at the list of people who signed the letter to the district condemning him.


parent
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 9:56 pm
parent, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 9:56 pm
29 people like this

It is really a warfare issue on students by the teacher's union. If you read the lawsuit, you will see the Leadership teacher had a distinct animus against the Asian student and it appears seemed to "trick" the students into allowing her to see the video they had already deleted (it only had 30 total views).

She said she wanted to see it to "protect" them. In reality, if you read the lawsuit that is in the link above, it sounds as if she spent significant time and energy to strip the student from being ASB President, because he had won by receiving the majority of votes. He was the first Asian American ASB President. You will see her references to this as some sort of mission on her part in her emails.

The riled up teacher according to the lawsuit then teamed up the AP U.S. History teacher to destroy the student, in conjunction with the San Ramon teacher's union and a parent. They organized demonstrations and student walkouts, with the riled up teacher presenting and spreading throughout the media a false narrative of what the parody video was actually about.

The school board member's email even indicates that the video did not contain any sort of "hate speech." Also even if it did, it was made on a student's own time, on a weekend, which is protected speech.

The lawsuit even says the two students that were supposedly the so-called "terrorists" in the James Bond parody video came up with the roles themselves, their own lines, etc. and that the student in question never even scripted the video.

If it had gone to a jury, I suppose the SRVUSD would have had to pay out tens of millions of dollars.

It is sad when the SRVUSD takes on policing freedom of speech of its students off-campus, off-hours, when the law says it is clearly unconstitutional.


Disgusted
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 11:51 pm
Disgusted, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2020 at 11:51 pm
23 people like this

If you look starting at page 48 of the lawsuit here Web Link

you will see that the administration and teachers (including some involving the Leadership teacher) actually sponsored and supported a number of on-campus, school-sponsored videos, made with school equipment and during school time. These videos made by mainly Caucasian SRVHS students depict kidnapping, torture, bombings, terrorists, depict Latinos as hypersexual predators, mock people with intellectual disabilities (parody of Forest Gump), make fund of LGBT people. These videos not only include sexist remarks, contain partial nudity, refer to females with a b word, and have references to an act on p. 52 that can't be repeated here, but these were videos for school projects mainly made on school property.

Yet it appears none of the Caucasian students were ever punished for these videos being so-called "inapproriate." Many of them are still on Youtube.

It seems like the SRVUSD went out of its way to single out an Asian child who was a top performing student for a video made outside of school when in fact Caucasian students on-campus were making far more disturbing videos depicting actual violence, drug use, and racist/homophobic/sexist behavior.


wow
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2020 at 6:39 am
wow, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2020 at 6:39 am
15 people like this

same school and district that let a teacher stay teaching after a child died in his class Yea that Becker guy. We now have a chance to change the paradigm. Time to limit the public school system. eliminate all school sports and classrooms and teach on line. we can trim the fat by releasing a ton of administrators and selling off land and building we no longer need. Open more charter online schools as well.
alot of problems go away when we take back control of our public education.


wow
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2020 at 6:45 am
wow, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2020 at 6:45 am
18 people like this

Heidi Stepp i guess can bully a student and lie about a student and still keep her job. The california public school system is dangerous the the emotional and physical well being of our children. FACT. BECKER and STEPP


Disgusted
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2020 at 7:09 am
Disgusted, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2020 at 7:09 am
26 people like this

From what I see, all of the administrators and teachers who took part in this smear job should all be fired. This is a shocking lawsuit that boggles the mind.

At the 3 minute mark here in this school sponsored SRVHS video, notice the "Asian Invasion" words. Web Link

Obviously the ingrained Protestant/White teacher/administrator demographic has problem with what they term the 'Asian invaders' and hence the smear campaign at SRVHS of the Asian male student. They withheld his grades, they removed him from a class with absolutely no due process, and they did nothing when apparently his parking spot was vandalized with Catholic slurs.

I practically could not believe it when I read this on the SRVHS.ORG website:
Web Link

"Getting in
To counter the Jewish invasion of prestigious American universities such as Princeton and Harvard, the schools developed an admissions system to reduce the amount of Jews being admitted into the schools. After reducing the Jew numbers, the schools kept the system in which it is still used today.

The SRV school district is similar to the American Universities. They drew lines to make SRVHS the school with the largest white population while diverting all the minorities to all the other schools such as Cal, Monte Vista, and Dougherty. By using this loophole, the district has done an excellent job in segregating the schools in the area."

It boggles the mind that the so called "leadership teacher" still has any teaching job in the entire state of CA when she appeared in the school sponsored Vines GQ video referred to in the lawsuit in the same video with the student with apparently no clothes on other than underwear who is in some sort of bed slathered in peanut butter.

What a pathetic and twisted way for teachers to exploit children. What do the staff do all day at SRVUSD? Just make videos? The videos cited in the lawsuit are just a tip of the iceberg.

Seriously, distance education is the way to go. Who would want their children in the same room with some of these teachers anyway.


Spudly
Laguna Oaks
on Apr 8, 2020 at 12:34 pm
Spudly, Laguna Oaks
on Apr 8, 2020 at 12:34 pm
14 people like this

I may have missed the link but where can the public see the video in question? The situation sounds mishandled and public funds are paying for that. It would be nice for the taxpayers to watch what they are paying for. Will there be any repercussion to the district management that allowed this to happen?


DKHSK
Bridle Creek
on Apr 8, 2020 at 1:05 pm
DKHSK, Bridle Creek
on Apr 8, 2020 at 1:05 pm
16 people like this

There is no such thing as "hate speech" as defined by the constitution. It is purely subjective. What this kid did was not harmful to anyone.

This was a BS charge leveled by democrat-controlled constituencies: teachers and school administrators.

The lack of common sense from those in the field of education is somewhat...lacking.


V A Bronzini
Downtown
on Apr 8, 2020 at 1:14 pm
V A Bronzini, Downtown
on Apr 8, 2020 at 1:14 pm
16 people like this

Liberals shoot themselves in the foot., again and again and again.
Where does the money come from to settle with Nathanial Yu the $665,000 .?
Certainly not from the schools general fund, right.?
How long will it be before we hear the cry that more money is needed for schools.
Those who conducted the witch-hunt should be made to pony up.
I support charter schools.


Mitch
another community
on Apr 8, 2020 at 2:07 pm
Mitch, another community
on Apr 8, 2020 at 2:07 pm
17 people like this

I guess none of these petty women, including Cook Kallio, have anything better to do with their lives?


Grumpy
Vineyard Avenue
on Apr 8, 2020 at 3:56 pm
Grumpy, Vineyard Avenue
on Apr 8, 2020 at 3:56 pm
21 people like this

Let this be a lesson to everyone—the district and teachers there, and the commenters here—that outrage is the source of much of the wrong in our society.

The defendants seemed to have joined in a cycle of mutual reinforcement of outrage and disgust, and steamrolled this kid’s rights. They seemed to have believed that the ends justified the means, when they were wrong about the ends. Good that it’s reversed and resolved.

As for particularly extreme outraged commenters, I’m surprised you don’t see the hypocrisy in your own eye.

Calmer heads always do better.


parent
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 1:04 am
parent, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 1:04 am
16 people like this

wow, is Heidi Stepp, Cook-Kallio's buddy still employed by SRVUSD? I don't see her name anywhere in the staff directory along with many of the others so I assume she is long gone.

However, the other one fixated on destroying the Asian student's reputation as indicated by the web link below, the person named Willford who was the one initially targeting the student, seems to still be there but I don't know if she is still in a teaching role.


As you can see by the amount of emails released in the last round of the documents the SRVUSD finally at last released to the court, it seems as this obsession with derailing this student went way over the top-
Web Link

Does Janet Willford actually still teach in San Ramon?


Pro-Law
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 1:28 am
Pro-Law, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 1:28 am
19 people like this

It is sickening reading the emails / letters by adults about a juvenile, who violated no law/regulation/policy, from the discovery process. They didn’t see the video, but appear to have been blinded by wanting to be behind “a cause”; truth be damned. I’m surprised they haven’t been personally sued in their individual capacities as their actions are really a shock to the conscience and their responses complete unreasonable.


Ben
Kottinger Ranch
on Apr 9, 2020 at 10:15 am
Ben , Kottinger Ranch
on Apr 9, 2020 at 10:15 am
18 people like this

Good Grief, the extent that Heidi Stepp and other teachers went to disseminate a false narrative about Nathaniel Yu and the parody video that they never viewed is shameful. These teachers/sociopaths put this family in danger with their hatred and they should never be allowed in a school again.


Paris
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 9, 2020 at 8:50 pm
Paris, Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 9, 2020 at 8:50 pm
39 people like this

I found this press release. It also has the website on the bottom about the case. Here’s the link to it if anyone wants to see:

Web Link

I went through some of the links, depositions, and court documents in their website.The documents clearly shows that the school administration targeted this poor young boy! Absolutely shameful and unbelievable! I can’t believe that we are sending our children to schools with these kinds of teachers. The pain and suffering that these teachers and officials have caused this boy and his family are absolutely heartbreaking. I highly recommend going through the website, the evidence is incredibly damning. My heart goes out to this family and we should all be praising and thanking them for fighting to protect the rights of all students.


Disgusted
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 11:04 pm
Disgusted, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2020 at 11:04 pm
16 people like this

These types of teachers seem to permeate the area. If you went through the links you'll see that one of the ring leaders in the campaign to spread false information about the juvenile they targeted is a former Pleasanton Unified School District employeee who used to teach at Amador Valley High School.

From the website: "Heidi Stepp, AP US History teacher, disseminated a false narrative about Nathaniel Yu and the parody video. During her sworn deposition, she admitted not having seen the video to date."

Also from the court filing:

"For example, N.Y.’s history teacher, Heidi Stepp, falsely reported to the media,
local politicians, Muslim organizations, and numerous other non-school officials that N.Y. mocked and disparaged Muslims and that he refused to apologize."

Everyone in the community needs to go through the entire court case and they will certainly see names they recognize from Pleasanton.


Bernal Resident
Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 10, 2020 at 12:30 pm
Bernal Resident, Pleasanton Meadows
on Apr 10, 2020 at 12:30 pm
26 people like this

I read from some articles online that part of the settlement agreement required that the District post an apology letter to the student. I wanted to read the apology letter so I tried to find it on the school's website. It turns out that the apology letter is "buried" in the school's news section - at the very end and in small lettering. It is pure hypocrisy that the SRVUSD School District preaches transparency, but appears to go out of their way to "hide" an apology letter. Unbelievable! (I was looking for the news titled "Apology" not "Acknowledgment Letter...") So, you don't waste your time searching - here it is:

Click on "Acknowledgement Letter Exhibit 4" at the very bottom of the page.

Web Link


FrequentWalkerMiles
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2020 at 10:03 pm
FrequentWalkerMiles, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2020 at 10:03 pm
6 people like this

It’s also disturbing to see how any Asian origin last names were on the letter sponsored by a thinly disguised lynch mob.

Unless Mr Yu personally offended everyone of them, which I doubt since he seemed rather well liked, enough to be elected ASB president, they now look like simpleton lackeys used by the teachers union to smear one of their own.

Some shameful stuff all around. We all know the level that the likes of Cook can get, but wow.


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