Florida high school rescinds suspension of senior who criticized school on private Web site

FLORIDA — A high school senior, who criticized his school and assistant principal on a private Web site, successfully argued for the reduction of his 10-day suspension.

Kyle Stevens, a student at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School, was suspended after the assistant principal received a printed copy of the Web page where Stevens described the school official as having the “personality of sour milk.”

On the first day of his suspension, Stevens met with school officials regarding his punishment.

With the help of Florida’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Stevens convinced Miami-Dade County school officials to rescind the remainder of his suspension. He was also granted his request to transfer to a nearby high school.

School officials backed off after hearing what had happened in a similar case in Ohio.

After a Cleveland school suspended a student for his criticism of his band instructor on the Web, the student filed a $550,000 federal lawsuit claiming school officials abridged his First Amendment rights to free speech. In the settlement, the school district paid the student $30,000 to drop his suit.

Florida ACLU legal director Andy Kayton said Stevens’ case is the third incident in Florida this year where a high school tried to control material on a personal Website. Kayton said schools should recognize their limited jurisdiction, especially when the Website is private.

“I don’t think [the assistant principal] could punish Kyle for what was on his Web site anymore than he could punish him for a leaflet distributed a mile away from school,” Kayton said.