Judge allows student suspended for Web site to finish schoolwork

ARKANSAS — A federal judge ruled in late June in favor of a ninth-gradestudent who filed a lawsuit against his school district for suspendinghim for his Web site.

U.S. District Judge George Howard issued a temporary restraining orderagainst Valley View School District, ordering school officials to allowninth grade student Justin Redman a chance to finish his schoolwork andmake up any tests missed during his suspension. Howard is expected to hearthe case in late summer.

Valley View Junior High School officials suspended Redman for the last10 days of classes in June for what school officials called “inappropriate”Internet use.

Redman had created a Web site from his home computer parodying ValleyView’s official site. Officials also revoked Redman’s school computer privilegesfor 18 months and required him to receive psychological counseling beforereturning to school in the fall.

Redman’s suspension caused him to miss exams, which led to him failingthe ninth grade. The Web site, which was posted May 7 and taken down May15, “contained content critical of some of the school’s administrators,staff and four students, often vulgar and generally impolite,” accordingto the lawsuit.

At a June 13 school board meeting, where Redman appealed the school’spunishment, board members upheld Valley View’s actions despite the warningsof an American Civil Liberties Union cooperating attorney who advised boardmembers of court precedents siding against school-imposed censorship ofindependent student Web pages.

The ACLU of Arkansas filed a lawsuit on behalf of Redman, contendingschool officials violated his First Amendment rights.

The ACLU asked the court to allow Redman to make up, over the summer,the work he missed, return for the 10th grade in the fall and to have thisincident taken off his record.

Rita Sklar, director of the Arkansas ACLU, said that because the judgehad a full docket, he issued the temporary restraining order, instead ofa preliminary injunction, to give himself more time to research the factsof the case.

“It does acknowledge the fact, just by its nature, he thinks there’smerit to the [Redman’s case,]” Sklar said. “So to preserve his interestsand prevent irreparable harm, he wants him to be able to make up thesetests and give the judge a little more time before he can hear the caselater this summer.”

Sklar said cases like this are very common and she is confident in theirclaims. But that does not mean students have free reign to do whateverthey want to on the Internet, she said.

“Kids need to be educated, I don’t want stifle their expression butI want them to know that while the school may not be able to punish youfor what you put up on your web site it doesn’t mean that you can’t befound guilty of defamation,” Sklar said. “I would love to get kids to realizethat and realize the limits that we all have to face.”

Redman’s parents, Marty and Patricia Redman, said in a joint statementthat they needed outside legal help because they believed the school oversteppedits bounds.

“Although we as parents do not condone what Justin did, we also do notfeel the school has the right to control or discipline him for what hedoes off school grounds-that job belongs to us,” the Redmans said in thestatement.