BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A U.S. judge has sided with a group of Idaho students who were removed from their high school cheerleading team after staging a protest against their coach.

Idaho Chief U.S. District Judge David Nye ruled that nine Burley High School cheerleaders have proved that they were dismissed for reserving their right to engage in the Cassia County School District’s grievance process, the Idaho Statesman reported Wednesday.

The students sued the district last year, alleging their First Amendment rights were violated.

More than a dozen members of the cheerleading team held a sit-in protest two years ago targeting their coach, who they claimed bullied them and did not care for their safety, according to the lawsuit.

Those involved in the protest were suspended from the team for a week.

To rejoin the team, the district required them to agree to several conditions, including issuing an apology, participating in a service project, and refraining from posting negative comments about the team or school employees on social media.

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Nine students signed the agreements but included lines saying they reserved their rights in the grievance process. They were removed from the team, while those who did not include the statement were allowed back on the squad.

The judge wrote that the constitutionally protected expression to engage in the grievance process “was the substantial and motivating factor” for the students’ dismissal from the team.

“While disappointed in the ruling, it is only one part of a two-part question and the district is working with its legal counsel to hopefully reach a fair resolution and to ensure the district can focus on the educational goals and needs of our students,” district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said.

The amount of damages will be determined at trial, the judge said. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com