OREGON — The attorney for a student editor expelled for publishingan underground newspaper is taking the case as high as it will go in thestate court system, hoping to have the student’s punishment overturnedand his disciplinary record wiped clean.
Jonathan Hoffman, attorney for Chris Pangle, filed a petition for reviewwith the Oregon Supreme Court Nov. 3 claiming school officials violatedPangle’s right to free speech when they expelled him for distributing constitutionallyprotected speech.
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Bend-La Pine SchoolDistrict in August. Pangle v. Bend-La Pine School Dist., 10 P.3d275 (Or. Ct. App. 2000).
Pangle was a junior at Mountain View High School in 1997 when he wasexpelled for distributing copies of OUTSIDE! to his fellow students. Theunauthorized publication, written off campus and circulated outside ofclass, included a how-to article that discussed methods of exploding atoilet and taking over the school’s intercom system. It also included alist of teachers’ names, addresses and telephone numbers.
In his petition, Hoffman said the Oregon Constitution, which bars thepassage of laws “restricting the right to speak, write or print freelyon any subject whatever,” provides Pangle with protection.
“[The district’s] imposed punishment against Pangle, including expulsion,probation and [placement of] adverse information in his student file, [was]based solely upon Pangleís writing and distribution of a non-school-sponsoredpublication,” Hoffman said in his petition.
The distribution of OUTSIDE! did not lead directly to any campus disruption,but the appellate court said Pangle “advocated specific methods for causingpersonal injury, property damage and the disruption of school activities.”As a result, school officials could reasonably predict substantial interferencewith the academic operation of the school and the rights of its students,the court said.
“The exercise of appropriate discipline to deter disruptive forces withinthe school environment is consistent with First Amendment rights as areconstitutional limitations on free speech in other environments, such asconstraints on yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater,” Judge WaltEdmonds said in the decision.
But dissenting Judge Rex Armstrong said, “There is no evidence thatChris or anyone else engaged in, or planned or prepared to engage in, anyof the suggested conduct the majority quotes.”
Hoffman endorsed Armstrong’s dissent.
“I think [his] dissent was right on the money in that he identifiedwhat the constitutionally permissible bases are, and the record is devoidof anything showing that was the reason that they expelled him, so thatought to be the end of it right there,” Hoffman said.
Pangle expressed optimism as the case climbs to the state’s highestcourt, and he said he still has “no regrets” about OUTSIDE!.
“I donít like the idea that one has to defend their speech –no matter what it is,” he said.
Under rules of the Oregon Supreme Court, school district attorneys wererequired to file their reply to Hoffman’s petition by Dec. 3, but Hoffmansaid the district decided not to file a reply at all. Hoffman said he doesnot expect to hear a response from the court until 2001.
“There are a series of things [in this case] that make the likelihoodof getting a review much higher than it would be in the typical case, butobviously any time you have discretionary review, you cannot assume [anything],”Hoffman said.
The appellate court’s decision is available on the Oregon Judicial Department’sWeb site at: http://126.96.36.199/A100163.htm