Judge says school district cannot punish Web page creator

WASHINGTON — A superior court judge ruled Tuesday thatthe North Thurston County School District violated the constitutionalrights of a student who was suspended for ridiculing a schooladministrator on his personal Web site.

Judge Thomas McPhee found that because former Timberline HighSchool student Karl Beidler’s Web site was not an on-campus activityand did not create a substantial disruption of the school day,school officials were not justified in punishing him for it.

"Even with the vastly increased opportunity to speak andbe heard created by the Internet, the exceptions to First Amendmentprotection for student speech remain narrowly drawn even for immatureand foolishly defiant students such as Mr. Beidler," McPheesaid in his decision. "Schools can and will adjust to thenew challenges created by such students and the Internet, butnot at the expense of the First Amendment."

Timberline High School officials expelled Beidler in January1999 after discovering his Web site, which included images ofthe school’s assistant principal having sex with cartoon characterHomer Simpson. After missing a month of classes, Beidler was allowedto enroll in an alternative school. He returned to Timberlinelast fall and has since graduated.

Robert Hedrick, an ACLU cooperating attorney, represented Beidler.He called Tuesday’s ruling "a victory for students acrossthe country."

"This case says students have First Amendment rights whenposting Web pages on the Internet," Hedrick said.