Suspended student settles writing project lawsuit

VIRGINIA — A student at a Warrenton high school has settled a lawsuit against a school board for violating his constitutional free speech rights when it suspended him for presenting a creative writing assignment to his English class.Daniel Green Jr. was suspended from Fauquier High School in the spring of 1996 after he presented to his teacher and class a year-long writing project about urban black youth.The ninth grader was given an “F”for the project, a “D”for the course, and a ten-day suspension from school, according to court documents. The grades came directly after the incident, and the suspension came after a July 1996 school board hearing to decide on a recommendation by Superintendent Anthony Lease that Green be disciplined for what he described as “very disrespectful”and “threatening”writing. The board agreed with Lease, saying Green’s writing contained extreme vulgarity, pornographic references and explicit references to drugs and violence.In a complaint filed in a Virginia federal district court, attorney Victor Glasberg said school officials mistook the persona Green adopted while giving his presentation for the student’s own personal views. Glasberg said the student was acting out the persona of an inner-city “rapper”in an effort to make his presentation more meaningful.Glasberg wrote in the complaint that by punishing Green, Fauquier officials showed they were neither “ready, willing or, apparently, able to understand either [Green’s] creative endeavor or the actual context [of his project].”The attorney representing the school, Bill Chapman, declined to comment on the case, and the school district’s superintendent, John Williams, did not return a call for comment.In an article published by The Washington Post, the director of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, Kent Willis, said of Green’s project “I literally cannot imagine a more protected form of free speech.”Willis added that “It’s the ultimate paradox to punish a student for what he writes in a creative writing class.”Green, who is now a sophomore at Fauqier, settled the case in early December. The school halted Green’s suspension and allowed him to return to classes. The school has also agreed to remove all mention of the incident from Green’s record, and to refrain from giving him any additional punishment. The school will pay Green’s attorney’s fees of $8,000. In return, Green agreed to accept the grades he received.