CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A Harrison County circuit judge has granted a preliminary injunction in the case involving a group of female student athletes from Lincoln Middle School who were suspended for a track and field meet following a protest at a previous meet.

WBOY reported Thursday that Judge Thomas Bedell ordered the preliminary injunction following a hearing. A decision on a final injunction will happen at a later date.

“Even though there was no malice found on either part of the defendants, the plaintiffs have met their burden and the temporary injunction has been granted,” said Bedell.

Five female student athletes forfeited their attempt during a shot put event in Harrison County last month because Becky Pepper-Jackson, a transgender girl was allowed to compete. The group was then barred from competing in their next event, per a school rule, known as a voluntary scratch rule. Although, the rule is not mentioned in the athletic handbook.

Lincoln Middle School’s head track coach Dawn Riestenberg testified Thursday that there is an unwritten voluntary scratch rule that has been in place for four years.

The following is a statement released by the Harrison County Board of Education:

“The Harrison County Board of Education strongly denies any form of retaliation against the Lincoln Middle School students who voluntarily chose to scratch from an event at the Harrison County Middle School Championship Track Meet. The students were permitted to engage in their selected form of protest without issue. In fact, the coaches and principal were aware of the likelihood of the protests and permitted the students to remain on the roster for their events.”

“Those students, like all of the other students on the team, however, were subject to a team rule that any player who scratches in an event cannot participate in that event at the next track meet. This neutral, school-specific rule was in place before the students’ protests and has nothing to do with those protests in any way.”

“Other than not being permitted to participate in the same event in which they scratched at the next track meet, the students have competed in track meets and events following their protests without restriction.”

“To be clear, no students have been retaliated against or penalized for expressing their views at the Harrison County Middle School Championship Track Meet.”

Two of the five girls testified during Thursday’s hearing that they didn’t know anything about the voluntary scratch rule. Furthermore, the student athletes cannot be punished for making any other demonstrations of free speech at upcoming track meets.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued his own statement following the announcement of the granted preliminary injunction:

“These girls didn’t disrupt anything when they protested. They should be commended, not punished. We need to teach them that it is noble to stand firm in their beliefs and address their grievances within the protections guaranteed by our constitution.”