Georgia middle school student punished for private Web site

GEORGIA — 18 weeks. That is apparently the punishment for students in one Georgia school district if they post material from home on a private Web site that school officials find “disruptive.”

According to a report in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, Matt Paul Foreman, 14, was suspended for 18 weeks for posting a Web page suggesting how to disrupt class at his Lawrenceville middle school. The punishment was reportedly handed down earlier this week. The school gave Foreman the option of attending an alternative school for suspended students.

Using his home computer, Foreman posted a list of 11 ways to disrupt class, such as “booing if we hear something we don’t agree with,” and “leaving the room without permission.” The site also names an administrator as “a person we try to avoid the most” and includes a link to the school’s official Web site with the suggestion that visitors “Go there and heckle.”

According to the Journal Constitution, Gwinnett County school officials have said that they consider this to be a disciplinary matter, not a free speech issue. They cited three rules to support Foreman’s suspension: disrupting the school’s mission; making written contact of a threatening or provoking nature to a school employee; and repeated violation of school rules.

The boy’s father, Matt Warren Foreman, said his son should be disciplined if he boos in class, but not for the Web site.

So far, courts have agreed, making it clear that except in very limited situations schools do not have the right to punish for or control a student’s off-school speech.

Last December, for example, a federal judge in Missouri ruled that a Missouri high school violated the First Amendment when it punished a student for using a home-based Web site to criticize the school.

For more information on the legal protections available to off-campus student speakers, see the SPLC Web site at: