Student wins Internet case, says harm done

WASHINGTON — The Bellevue School District has settled out of court with a student, who was punished last year for creating a satirical computer “home page” about his school.In February 1995, Paul Kim, a National Merit finalist with a 3.8 grade-point average at Newport High School, created the home page from his own computer on his own time and included a disclaimer that read “no one associated with the school” was responsible for the page but himself. He also signed his name to the page.However, without prior notice to Kim, the principal faxed a letter to National Merit officials withdrawing the school’s endorsement of him; the principal also contacted seven colleges to which he had applied and revoked any recommendations.The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington threatened to file a lawsuit against the district, contending that it violated Kim’s First Amendment right of free speech.”This is an important settlement because it protects the rights of students to engage in free speech on the Internet at home,” said ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor. “The district has recognized that the principal had no authority to discipline a student for expressing his opinions on his own time on a home computer.”In December, the district apologized to Kim, who is now a freshman at Columbia University. They paid him $2,000 and will seek to have him reinstated as a National Merit finalist.Regardless of the settlement, Kim said, the damage is done. “Even with compensation and an apology letter, the damage is irreversible.”