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Student sues after being told to pack in Packers jersey

By The Associated Press

12.18.00

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Rocky Sonkowsky, 10, in his room at home in New Prague, Minn., on Dec. 15.

NEW PRAGUE, Minn. — It's not easy being green.

Ten-year-old Rocky Sonkowsky found that out when he was allegedly banned from a class pizza party with the Minnesota Vikings because he repeatedly refused to take off his Green Bay Packers jersey.

Two days before the rival teams met for a second time this season, the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union on Dec. 15 announced a lawsuit in federal court against the school district, two teachers and the school principal for violating his right to free speech.

Call it Packers persecution.

The mess started in fall of 1999 when New Prague Intermediate School, 40 miles southwest of Minneapolis, entered a statewide geography contest. A visit to the Vikings' facility in Eden Prairie to meet star receiver Cris Carter was the top prize.

But, according to Rocky's attorneys, school officials made the 10-year-old cover his cherished Packers jersey in a photo for the contest.

When he wouldn't back down from showing the team's green and gold, they also kept him out of a parade the rest of the class got to be in and refused to post his Green Bay Packers-inspired art work, attorneys said. Then, after the class won the trip, they refused to let him go along, according to attorneys.

"They were afraid that his being a Packer fan would embarrass the Vikings and Cris Carter," said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the MCLU.

"I'll bet if Cris Carter had known about this, he would have talked to the kid and jerked his chain and probably given him a Vikings jersey. I can't imagine he would have been offended."

After hearing about the mess, the Vikings offered Sonkowsky and his father, Roy, two tickets and a chance to meet players yesterday.

In an interview on Dec. 15 from his room — packed with Packers gear — Rocky said he loves the team, especially quarterback Brett Favre.

"All the people in my family like them," he said.

Rocky, who could pass for Harry Potter, said he wears Packer clothes most days, but not all.

"The three things most important in the world are God, your family and the Green Bay Packers," Rocky's father, a burly man with his son's name tattooed on his arm, told his son.

District Superintendent Frankie Poplau confirmed that Rocky was not allowed to make the field trip. But she wouldn't say why, noting that the district plans to dispute the facts of the case in court.

"It is not our practice to discriminate against students based on their sports team allegiance. I have great respect for the professionals in this district," Poplau said.

The district has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit, filed Dec. 13.

Joni Thome, the attorney for the family, said Rocky was disciplined for some playground scrapes and foul language while the jersey debate was going on. But she said the discipline wouldn't have been required if school officials hadn't forced the issue.

The school never should have expected the boy to hide his team allegiance, she said.

"They are Packer fans, as we all know Packer fans to be," Thome said. "They will die Packer fans."

She also swears the timing of the case has nothing to do with the game, calling it merely an attempt to beat a one-year statute of limitations on the case.

Thome said Rocky and his dad are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

Update

Minnesota school district denies punishing boy for backing Packers
Student was barred from Vikings party because he was disrespectful, disruptive in class, legal documents say.  01.09.01

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