Federal magistrate denies student’s motion to compel in discrimination suit against Noblesville Schools

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(IL file photo)

A federal magistrate judge has denied a motion to compel in a case involving a Noblesville High School student who wanted to start an anti-abortion group and sued the district for discrimination.

The plaintiffs in the case — including minor student E.D. and the group Noblesville Students for Life — made three requests for production to the school district. The third set of requests contained 12 separate requests. The plaintiffs claimed the district gave inadequate answers to some of those requests.

The two sides eventually narrowed their dispute but were unable to resolve Request No. 9, which seeks documentation of “any teacher, administrator, or staff discipline by Noblesville Schools for a violation of any policy having to do with social media, bullying, cyber bullying, harassment, and staff ethics within the last three (3) years.”

The plaintiffs filed a motion to compel in December 2022.

The school district argued the motion didn’t provide a clear explanation of what documents or information the plaintiffs wanted. It also argued the plaintiffs caused a delay by not providing search terms for the discovery.

According to the district, the plaintiffs’ request for 1,140 searches resulted in more than 67,000 documents and 350,000 pages, which took four attorneys and two staff members about 413 hours to produce once search terms were provided in September 2022.

In relation to their request, the plaintiffs said they believe they are entitled to all disciplinary records related to staff ethics within the last three years.

Southern District of Indiana Magistrate Judge Tim Baker denied the motion Friday, ruling the district’s request to narrow the search terms for Request No. 9 “is more than reasonable and in line with the efforts they already made in this matter.”

According to the order, the defendants’ proposed revisions for the production of disciplinary records includes any teacher or staff who were disciplined for interfering with a student’s freedom of speech, right to association and right to due process — plus any discipline related to conduct that was retaliation for students exercising those rights.

“Defendants’ proposed revision likely will result in the production of a significant amount of additional, relevant documents,” the order states.

In denying the motion to compel, the court also denied the district’s request for sanctions and fees incurred in opposing the motion, ruling it was a good-faith discovery dispute.

E.D., her parents and Noblesville Students for Life filed the lawsuit in December 2021, alleging 19 federal and state law violations. A judge later dismissed part of the case, allowing a total of eight of the claims to proceed against some or all of the named defendants.

According to the lawsuit, the issue started in August 2021, when E.D., who was a freshman, created a callout flier for the anti-abortion group. Jeremy Luna, the high school’s dean of students, told the student and her mother in a meeting that the flier wouldn’t be approved because of a photo of student protesters holding a sign that said, “Defund Planned Parenthood.”

The school’s principal, Craig McCaffrey, then emailed E.D.’s mother and informed her Noblesville Students for Life’s status as a student club had been revoked because he was “not confident that [Noblesville Students for Life] is a student-driven club.”

Some school district employees engaged with posts about the group on Facebook, writing and/or “liking” comments that were “demeaning” to E.D. and the group.

When E.D.’s pastor wrote an op-ed criticizing the school, McCaffrey sent a rebuttal to all NHS students and parents saying E.D. had disregarded school policy and had not actually initiated the club herself.

The group appears to still be an active organization, with an Instagram account that posts regularly and a website that lists officers for the 2022-23 school year.

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