Judge prohibits school district from punishing student for contributing to underground paper

CALIFORNIA — Five students filed lawsuits against the Los AngelesUnified School District in June challenging the punishments they receivedfor their involvement with an underground newspaper.

In total, 11 Palisades High School students were suspended and fourothers transferred for their involvement with the Occasional Blow Job, acontroversial underground newspaper that insulted teachers, students andadministrators and used profane language.

As a result of the suspensions, approximately 300 students staged awalk-out to show support for the newspaper and the students involved.

According to court documents, school administrators said the studentsinvolved with the newspaper and walk-out were punished for contributing”to unauthorized material which caused disruption on the high school campus.”

For Jeremey Meyer, that contribution was an e-mail he never intendedto be published.

Meyer, a senior at Palisades and one of the four students who was forcedto transfer to another district high school, filed a lawsuit asking thecourt to allow him to return to Palisades.

U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird granted Meyer’s request, ruling inearly June that Meyer could not be suspended or transferred for his allegedinvolvement with the underground publication. Meyer v. Los Angeles UnifiedSchool District, No. CV-00-4360 LGB (AIJx) (D. Cal June 5, 2000) (ordergranting motion for preliminary injunction).

Baird said that because Meyer’s e-mail was not obscene and because hedid not take part in or encourage any school disruption, the disciplineimposed by the school district was “improper” under California law.

“No purpose would be served by removing him from the environment inwhich he has spent the last four years of his life,” Baird said in herdecision.

Baird did find a purpose in not allowing four other seniors from graduatingwith their class, though.

Although she had ruled in Meyer’s case that vulgar words such as “Fuck”were protected speech a month earlier, Baird found the school districtwas within its rights to bar the four students from graduation ceremonies.,suggesting that what these students did was substantially disruptive.

Carol Sobel, the attorney for Meyer and the four students, said thecourt ruled the way it did because Meyer did not actively participate inthe O.B.J., unlike his four counterparts.

Sobel said the district relied on the standard established by the SupremeCourt in 1986 in Bethel School District v. Fraser. In that case, the Courtruled that schools could censor vulgar speech even if it did not meet theconstitutional standard of obscene language.

Sobel had argued that the newspaper dealt with issues of concern tothe student body at Palisades High School. Therefore, it was legitimatefree speech, even though it contained admittedly profane language.

Although the four students could not attend graduation ceremonies, theydid receive their diplomas.