California high school student dodges expulsion for provocative letter

CALIFORNIA — When Bassett High student Joe Neal wrote and distributed a letter highly critical of principal Linda Bouman, administrators were not amused by his rhetoric and threatened to expel the high school senior.

On June 17, however, U.S. District Judge James Ideman called the school’s response “draconian” and issued a temporary restraining order against the school.

Neal’s letter took issue with curriculum choices the administration had made, particularly cuts in foreign language instruction. He also compared Bouman to dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro.

The school took no action against Neal at first, but later a district investigator questioned the student. In a bizarre twist, Neal was read his Miranda rights at one point even though he had not been charged with any crime.

With legal counsel provided by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Neal won the initial proceeding to enjoin the school’s effort at expulsion.California is one of six states to have a free expression law on the books to protect the First Amendment rights of students.