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Elmbrook School District moves on after Supreme Court decision

June 17, 2014

The Elmbrook School District says that it respects the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to decline hearing an appeal of a court decision that found holding public high school graduations in Elmbrook Church was unconstitutional.

District officials published a press release Monday in response to the decision but declined to comment further.

"The district respects the ruling of the court and its denial of certiorari," Elmbrook School District chief information officer Chris Thompson said.

The Supreme Court's decision closes the case on Doe v. Elmbrook School District. The case addressed the fact that Elmbrook hosted the graduation ceremonies of Brookfield Central and Brookfield East high schools in Elmbrook Church from 2000 to 2009 due to what the schools said was a lack of adequately accommodating options at either school.

District officials said that students preferred the church over school gyms because of its capacity, accessibility to the handicapped, and air conditioning.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the suit in 2009 representing nine anonymous students, parents, and graduates of the district. The organization praised the high court's decision to not hear the appeal.

"The matter was resolved correctly by the court of appeals. This case should serve as a warning to public schools that it's not appropriate to hold important ceremonies like graduation in a religious setting," Americans United for Separation of Church and State executive director Barry Lynn said in a press release.

In September of 2011, a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the district, saying it could host the ceremonies at the church in a 2-1 decision. However, almost a year later, the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision in a 7-3 vote.

In August of 2012, the Elmbrook Board of Education decided to appeal the 7th Circuit Court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, noting that the board was seeking clarity on the issue of public entities using religious facilities for future events.

The district estimates its costs in relation to the case at about $5,000 for an insurance deductible. Several attorneys offered pro bono assistance to the district, which helped to limit litigation costs.

Since 2010, the district has held its high school graduations at the new Brookfield East Fieldhouse.

"(The district) looks forward to continuing the practice of celebrating with our graduates and their families in Brookfield East's fieldhouse for years to come," Thompson said in the statement.

The Supreme Court previously declined to take action on the case in May of 2013, but the case was re-listed. Monday's denial officially ends Doe v. Elmbrook School District.

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