Judge rules class assignment about psychedelic drug not free speech

NEW JERSEY — An administrative law judge ruled in September\nthat a high school teacher who refused to give a student credit\nfor creating a brochure about a hallucinogenic mushroom did not\nviolate the student’s First Amendment rights because the 1988\nSupreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier “makes\nclear that school officials may, indeed, exert strict control\nover the content of class work.”

The teacher had assigned his honors biology class the creation\nof a “project kingdom” brochure and let each student\nchoose an organism from an assigned kingdom. The student, known\nin court records as T.L., was assigned the fungi kingdom.

T.L. selected the Psilocybe mushroom, which is classified in\nthe U.S. as an illegal drug because of its hallucinogenic properties.\nHe completed the assignment to the teacher’s specifications and\nturned it in on time.

The teacher directed T.L. to redo the brochure without “any\nreferences to illegal activity.” The teacher said in court\nthat “the brochure could be read as suggesting drug use or\nat least not disapproving of it.” T.L. refused to redo the\nassignment and was given a zero. He sued the school district for\nviolating his First Amendment rights.

But Judge Bruce R. Campbell ruled that “the assignment\nof a zero grade to T.L.’s brochure was an academic and not a disciplinary\naction.”

In his decision, Campbell cited the Supreme Court’s ruling\nin Hazelwood that a school is a nonpublic forum, and that\nthere is no First Amendment protection for curricular speech.\nHe said the matter was simply a grading dispute and should be\nleft to the administration of the local board of education to\ndecide.