Two teen antiabortion protesters who were berated by an assistant principal at Downingtown STEM Academy are asking the district for an apology and acknowledgment that they had a right to demonstrate outside the school.
In a letter to Downingtown Area School District Superintendent Lawrence Mussoline on Wednesday, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a faith-based group representing Conner and Lauren Haines, said that since the April 21 incident, the brother and sister have been harassed with hundreds of messages, some "threatening and vulgar."
The pair calmly videotaped Zach Ruff, dean of student life and activities, as he reacted when they refused to leave the sidewalk outside the elite science and technology school. He cursed at them, tried to rip a sign away, and sang a song to drown them out as they shouted to students driving home at the end of the day.
Ruff, 40, has been placed on paid administrative leave while the district investigates the incident, but he has drawn wide support from the 787-student school and the community with a petition asking for his reinstatement. To date, it has 43,000 signatures.
Students say the 14-year school district veteran is well liked at the STEM Academy, which was twice named the top public school in the state.
District spokeswoman Pat McGlone said the administration had no comment on the letter but noted the district had already apologized for Ruff's behavior on its website. "We've done that before it was even asked for," she said.
In its statement, posted after the video went viral, the district said: "We do not condone or support the conduct expressed in the video and are deeply disappointed that this incident occurred. His conduct does not represent the values of the school district or the respect we expect our employees to show for the civil rights of others."
McGlone also said a hearing for Ruff had been scheduled "within a matter of days" and the district was awaiting word on whether he would attend.
In addition to an apology, the Haineses are asking that the school send a memo to employees, students, and parents explaining that the teens had a right to speak on the school sidewalk.
"No one should ever be harassed and berated by a government employee on a public sidewalk simply for peacefully engaging in one of the most common free speech activities," ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot said.
"The severity of this situation, as easily seen in the video, makes what we are requesting of the school district so necessary. This can never happen again, and the school district should ensure that both Conner and Lauren — as well as anyone else who would engage in protected free speech — feel confident that it won't."
The letter says that if no response is received by May 14, the ADF might take legal action.