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Former Texas student gets $90,000 settlement following federal lawsuit

The settlement comes five years after the lawsuit was first filed in federal court.

HOUSTON — A former Klein Oak High School student won a $90,000 settlement nearly five years after filing a federal lawsuit claiming she'd been harassed and punished for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. 

The suit claimed her rights to free speech had been violated. 

"She is very relieved it's all over and feels vindicated," said her attorney Randall Kallinen. 

Her lawsuit was settled shortly before it was set to go to trial.

"Student's rights are vital and deserve to be protected," said Geoffrey Blackwell with American Atheists, a civil rights organization. 

American Atheists said the student, a senior at Klein Oak back in 2017 objected to the words "under God" and believed "liberty and justice for all" was not guaranteed for people of color. It's why she chose to sit during the pledge. 

"They punished her and retaliated against her for not participating," said Kallinen.

Klein ISD was a defendant in the suit but was dismissed from the case more than a year ago. Benjie Arnold, a former sociology teacher at the school, was the lone defendant left in the lawsuit. 

"He would tell the students if they weren't happy in the United States, he would pay them to move to Europe," said Blackwell. 

The Texas Association of School Boards opted to pay $90,000 to settle Arnold's case. 

"They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees fighting this student and her rights to free speech and in the end, we prevailed," said Kallinen.

The student's attorneys tell us the case sends a clear message across the country. 

"You still retain your free speech rights when you go to school," said Kallinen. "Students cannot be made to stand and pledge allegiance to a country. This is not Russia."

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