The actions of the Woodland Park School District violate plaintiff Logan Ruths’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression.
WOODLAND PARK, Colo. — ACLU of Colorado lawyers filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Logan Ruths, a longtime resident of Woodland Park, Colorado and a vocal critic of the Woodland Park School District’s current leadership. The lawsuit alleges that after Ruths made a brief, sarcastic remark at a recent school board meeting, the Woodland Park School District (WPSD) attempted to make an example out of Ruths by banishing him from all Woodland Park school board meetings, district property and other district-hosted events for more than a year.
The lawsuit seeks to lift the banishment order so that Ruths may resume exercising his constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and to ensure others concerned about public education in Woodland Park are not intimidated into silence.
Ruths grew up attending public schools in Woodland Park, worked for WPSD for a period of time and engaged with WPSD decisions as a Woodland Park resident. He regularly attends public school board meetings and talks openly with journalists and the community about his criticisms of the district.
During public comment at a school board meeting on June 14, 2023, a speaker voiced ideas that Ruths perceived to be anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. At the conclusion of the speaker’s remarks and after some audience applause, Mr. Ruths expressed his disagreement by joking, “Where else do you do comedy at? I’d love to see your show sometime.”
The lawsuit alleges that although Ruths’ comment was brief and harmless, the board abruptly stopped the meeting, threatened to call the police to have Ruths removed and ultimately intimidated him into leaving the property.
The next day, on June 15, 2023, Ruths received a letter from WPSD’s attorney ordering Ruths to stay away from district property and events for more than a year or face criminal prosecution. The lawsuit alleges this banishment order has no legitimate basis and is instead thinly veiled retaliation for Ruths’ open criticisms of WPSD.
“This experience has been a chilling illustration of the Woodland Park School Board’s abuse of power in trying to silence legitimate public dissent. As an alumnus of the Woodland Park School District, and a previous employee, I have the right to engage with and be heard by the district. Having that right taken away was particularly painful and harrowing,” said Ruths. “It is terrifying to see the lengths that the Woodland Park School Board, Superintendent Ken Witt and the district’s legal counsel Brad Miller will go to in order to further their anti-democratic interests.”
The lawsuit alleges that by banning Ruths from future board meetings and other school functions, WPSD, the school board, and Superintendent Ken Witt have violated Ruths’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression under the Colorado and U.S. Constitutions. Documents filed by the ACLU along with the complaint ask the court to immediately lift the undemocratic banishment order so that Ruths may continue to exercise his constitutional rights while the lawsuit is pending.
“The right to speak out against government wrongdoing is especially precious when it comes to our public schools. Across Colorado, school boards and administrators are making decisions daily that impact the wellbeing of students and their communities,” said Tim Macdonald, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “It is critical that school boards not attempt to silence citizens with these unconstitutional banishment orders.”
In addition to Macdonald, the legal team includes ACLU of Colorado staff attorneys Sara Neel, Annie Kurtz, and Lindsey Floyd, and cooperating attorneys Craig May, Mickey Redlingshafer, and Colleen Koch of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP.