The Butte School District will pay $70,000 to a former Butte High valedictorian whose free speech rights were violated in 2008.

To settle a lawsuit brought against the district and won in the state Supreme Court by former student Renee Griffith, the board was informed during its monthly meeting Monday night that the district’s insurer would pay that amount for Griffith’s attorney fees.

“This is the last part of the Griffith v. School District case,” said Superintendent Judy Jonart at the meeting.

Griffith was a Butte High valedictorian who was banned from speaking at her high school graduation when she refused to take references to her religion out of her speech. Prior to making it to the Supreme Court, a Billings district court judge ruled in the district’s favor.

A memo from Jonart to the board says Montana School Boards Association lawyer Tony Koenig, who represented the Butte School District in the legal proceedings, told Jonart he was directed by the district’s insurance carrier to settle rather than continue to incur attorney fees and costs fighting it.

Also during the meeting, the board signed off on agreements with five unions, leaving only one union negotiation to be completed for this year’s contracts out of the district’s 11 bargaining units. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 381’s bus drivers, monitors, paraprofessionals and playground monitors, along with the UNITE HERE! Local 427’s cleaners and food service employees, received raises of between 15 and 21 cents an hour, and $25.

Personnel Director Therese McClafferty said the plan was to have all the negotiations wrapped up before mid-November, not long before starting next year’s negotiations in 2013. The last group, the engineers, has canceled meetings later in October, she said.

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