A former Woodland Park School District employee who was banned from all district property and events after being kicked out of a June 14 school board meeting is now allowed to return to school grounds, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado said Monday.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Teller County school district Thursday, alleging that the district’s move to ban Logan Ruths from district property and events for more than a year violated his constitutional rights to freedom of expression under the state and federal constitutions. The organization asked the court to immediately remove the banishment order, insisting that a comment made by Ruths at the school board meeting that led to him being removed was “brief and harmless.”
The district responded Friday by ending the banishment order, according to the ACLU.
“They never should have imposed it in the first place, and when they were going to have to go in front of a federal judge and explain themselves, I think they realized that they were wrong and that they had no basis to impose the banishment order,” Tim Macdonald, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado, told The Colorado Sun.
Ruths, who previously worked for the district for almost two years — most recently as the network administrator and records custodian who handled all public records requests — was pushed out of the June school board meeting after making a quip following remarks made by a speaker during public comment.
Ruths, who was born and raised in Woodland Park, graduated from high school there and still lives in the town, said he believed the speaker’s comments were hateful toward the LGBTQ+ community.
A video clip of the June 14 meeting shows Ruths reacting to a comment made by a speaker who raised concerns about a trio of school board candidates backed by “extremists” who, if elected, “will reintroduce gender confusion to young children through (social-emotional learning).”
“We need a real plan to push back against the extremists who are hurting the children,” the speaker said. “I urge the board to appeal to Attorney General Merrick Garland to get the resources we need from the Department of Justice to push back against the rise of political extremism in Woodland Park.”
“Where else do you do comedy at?” Ruths joked after the audience began clapping. “I’d love to see your show sometime.”
School board president David Rusterholtz insisted that Ruths became disruptive during the meeting and told The Colorado Sun that he wanted Ruths to leave the meeting so that he could restore order.
The day after the meeting, Ruths received a letter from the school district attorney, Brad Miller, ordering him to stay away from district property and events for more than a year or else face criminal prosecution.
Rusterholtz, who characterized the district’s move as a no-trespassing order, told The Colorado Sun on Monday that once he learned that Ruths had been told to stay away from district property and events for more than a year, he immediately contacted Miller and Superintendent Ken Witt urging them to lift the order.
“I thought that that was a bit extreme,” Rusterholtz said. “I let everyone know on the board that I wanted this lifted and lifted immediately. I thought it was excessive. I understood why, but that’s not me.”
“Passions are running very high,” he added. “I want to diffuse … the anger and the resentment or whatever people may be feeling. I don’t want to add fuel to a fire.”
The ACLU has not withdrawn its lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Macdonald said.
“We’ll consider our options and then decide whether there’s anything that remains to be done,” he said, noting that the ACLU has also filed public records requests with Woodland Park School District to investigate whether anyone else has been banished from the district.
“Their tactics of trying to silence their critics won’t work as long as there are people willing to stand up and fight for people’s civil rights,” Macdonald said. “And so I think (the district’s) action is an indication that they have tried to silence people. Here they have not been able to silence Mr. Ruths, and we’ll see if there are other people out there they tried to do similar things to.”
Ruths, 26, said he is happy that the school district “decided to do the right thing.” He plans to return to board meetings and participate in district events.
“I think that it is very important for other individuals to see that even though the district has continued to treat me this way,” Ruths said, “that they are not allowed to continue to treat people this way.”