Parents charge that son punished for e-mail commentary

CALIFORNIA — A Southern California couple is fighting a Bellflower School District ruling in which their son was transferred to a different high school after sending a controversial e-mail message to his principal.

Devin Haas, who graduated in June, sent Mayfair High School principal Nancy Billinger an article in April of 1997 from Time magazine about mind control tactics and compared the subject matter to the way the high school is run. He concluded the message with the statement “What do you think of this?”

After receiving the message, Billinger allegedly became enraged and falsely accused Haas of swearing in class, said Haas’ mother, Lilith. Though Billinger refused to comment on the issue, Assistant Superintendent Rick Kemppainer denied the accusations stating, “If you think the e-mail incident is involved with this matter, you’re running up the wrong tree.”

Because her son was enrolled in the school under a inter-district school choice permit, he was moved from Mayfair High School into nearby Bellflower High School without a hearing and was suspended from school for five days, Lilith Haas said.

Haas and her husband, James, have filed suit against the school district, challenging the removal of their son from Mayfair High School without due process and for restricting his First Amendment rights in connection with the e-mail message. A trial before the Los Angeles Superior Court is scheduled for April of next year.

“The principal trumped up the swearing charge so she could have a reason to kick him out of the school,” Lilith Haas said. “All my son did was speak up about an issue. They moved him to silence his voice.”