School District Sued For Pushing Students To Vote For Democrats

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CINCINNATI — A high school principal has been suspended after a claim that students were taken to a voting precinct house on a field trip, shown how to vote and given Democratic sample ballots.

An anti-tax group sued Cincinnati Public Schools over the Oct. 13 trip by Hughes High School students to the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes charges the trip violated a pact with the district.

The district suspended Hughes principal Virginia Rhodes on Friday for as long as two weeks with pay. A disciplinary hearing will be held Wednesday for Dennis McFadden, social studies teacher who took the students to the board headquarters.

The district said in a statement Monday that it was investigating for any policy violations.

The students taken to vote were given Democratic sample ballots, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

COAST attorney Chris Finney said Monday that the district engaged in "one-sided political activity" by handing out sample ballots only for Democratic candidates.

"If the students had not been given instructions on how to vote or had been provided with equal access to information on other candidates, that would have been fine," Finney said.

Students were accompanied to and met at the board by people associated with Democratic campaigns, Finney said.

Messages were left Monday at the school for Rhodes and McFadden. Their home phone numbers were not immediately available.

The coalition claims the district violated a 2002 agreement reached after an earlier lawsuit against the schools over equal access in a school levy campaign.

The new lawsuit says the district agreed to a policy preventing district property and workers from being used for "promulgation and distribution of printed and electronic messages advocating the election or defeat of candidates for public office."

Coalition co-founder Tom Brinkman Jr., the Republican candidate for Hamilton County auditor, filed the lawsuit.

The district said it will investigate whether all students were at least 18 years old, had parental permission and were adequately supervised.

An internal investigation already determined "there was no intent to sway votes" on the trip, but did indicate the trip may have lacked oversight, the Enquirer quoted district Superintendent Mary as saying last week.

A message seeking additional comment was left at the district Monday.