FLORIDA — A high school senior returned to school yesterday afterbeing suspended for a Web site he created that criticized the school.
Aaron Fiehn served four days of his original 10-day suspension beforebeing allowed to return to Belleview High School in Ocala. The 17-year-oldstudent was suspended after he posted a Web site that Belleview PrincipalJim Wohrley considered “disruptive to the school environment.” The Website, which was posted on Feb. 6 and has since been removed, containedfoul language and derogatory comments about Belleview.
Fiehn’s reinstatement occurred after several discussions between Wohrleyand attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who werecontacted by Fiehn.
“The school essentially admitted that it had wrongly suspended him,”said Randall C. Marshall, legal director for the ACLU of Florida. “To suspendhim for an off-campus Web site would in fact violate the First Amendmentso they put him back in school with no penalties.”
According to Wohrley, Fiehn was suspended because his site disruptedschool activities and because of the references he made to other Belleviewstudents on the site. Under the Marion County School District Code of Conduct,using foul, obscene or abusive language is grounds for suspension.
However, because the Web site was created outside of school on a personalcomputer, Marshall said the school could not legally punish Fiehn for itscontent.
“Various courts have already held that you can’t suspend or punish astudent for speech off campus,” Marshall said. “The school may have someability to control what students write as part of a school-sponsored newspaperor a school-sponsored Web site, but certainly, students don’t lose theirconstitutional rights simply because they’re students.”
Marshall added that the Web site did not have any connection to theschool except for the criticism of it.
Fiehn said he created the site after another Belleview High School studentcompleted a 10-day suspension for a similar Web page.