DENVER – A graduate of Delta High School is suing the Delta County School District, its board of education, superintendent, her school and several teachers and administrators over claims they retaliated against her when she said she was atheist, costing her college scholarships and leaving her suffering from panic attacks.
Cidney Fisk, 19, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Colorado on Monday.
Now studying political science at the University of Denver, Fisk’s lawsuit claims that the actions of her school and the district cost her other college opportunities.
According to the suit, Fisk was a top student at Delta High. She had a GPA of 4.1, had scored above average on her ACT, was the student body treasurer, a debate team captain, school newspaper reporter and was active in her community.
But during her junior and senior years, Fisk grew wary of several Christian programs operating at the school both during and outside of school hours, and used her position as student body treasurer and newspaper reporter to speak out against what she saw as a violation of the state and U.S. constitutions.
Some of the school administrators and Fisk’s teachers had reprimanded Fisk for voicing her beliefs so publicly, according to the lawsuit. At the end of her junior year, she tried to form a secular student group, but was told by one of her teachers that “the club did not line up with community and school values,” according to the lawsuit.
Fisk and friends had spoken out against an abstinence-only speaker, and when another religious speaker was brought in for a speech in March 2016, Fisk was allegedly reprimanded for asking “pointed questions about his qualifications,” according to the suit.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel interviewed Fisk about the speaker, and allegedly received death threats the day before the article was published.
According to the suit, she and her parents reported the threats to the school, district and police, but nothing was done. And shortly after the story went to press, according to the suit, one of Fisk’s teachers dropped her grade abruptly from a 98 to a 70.
“Her grades were changed to F’s almost immediately after the Daily Sentinel article featuring Ms. Fisk was published,” the suit says.
It goes on to say that Fisk was told she was being “highly disrespectful,” and that “she should ‘shut up’ and ‘fake it until she makes it’” if she wanted her grades to go up.
The grade was only raised after “strident and persistent complaints” from her parents, the suit alleges.
She wrote a story for the school paper about the experience, and the suit says the teacher in charge stopped it from being published. The lawsuit also alleges that she was barred from giving a graduation speech because of her beliefs and was denied membership in the National Honor Society.
As the end of high school neared, Fisk started applying for scholarships and to colleges. The suit says she was denied scholarships she should have been granted because school administrators and counselors failed to submit her applications, which had to have recommendations from those same staffers.
It also alleges that Fisk and her parents had to demand that the school’s counselors submit her college applications when they weren’t sent over three days before the application deadline, and that two colleges denied her admittance because of negative recommendations from the counselors.
“The school administration all retaliated against Ms. Fisk for her speech and for expressing her non-Christian beliefs,” the suit alleges.
It says that in summer 2016, Fisk “suffered two anxiety attacks that required medical treatments, including hospitalization, and required psychological attention.”
The suit alleges her First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, via the Establishment Clause, were violated.
It also alleges violations by the school and district of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and a violation of the Colorado Constitution.
Through her attorneys, Fisk is asking for compensatory and consequential damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
Attempts to reach the district for comment have so far been unsuccessful.