School district pays more than $60,000 to student suspended for Web site parody

WASHINGTON — Two years after administrators suspendedhim for his parody Web site, Karl Beidler finally has somethingto celebrate.

Following negotiations between the American Civil LibertiesUnion of Washington, which represented Beidler, and the NorthThurston County School District, a judge is expected to approvethis week a settlement granting Beidler $10,000 in damages and$52,000 in attorney’s fees.

"We’re very pleased with the decision," ACLU spokesmanDoug Honig said. "It makes clear that school officials can’tdiscipline students for free speech activities outside of school.And it also makes clear that the First Amendment applies to cyberspacejust as much as it applies to written speech."

The settlement came after a July 2000 ruling by a ThurstonCounty Superior Court judge who found that the school districtviolated Beidler’s freedom-of-speech rights when officials suspendedhim for a personal Web site he created that made fun of the school’sassistant principal.

Beidler, then a junior at Timberline High School, was originallysuspended in January 1999 on an "emergency" basis. Hewas later suspended for a month for "exceptional misconduct."

Honig said the case sets "a valuable precedent" asit is one of the first cases involving free speech rights of studentson the Internet.

The ACLU of Washington has also represented two other studentsin similar cases. Last year, a U.S. District Court judge ruledin favor of Nick Emmett, a high school senior suspended for aWeb site parody he created on his personal computer. KentlakeSchool District dropped all disciplinary action and awarded Emmett$6,000 in attorney’s fees following that decision. Also last year,the ACLU represented three students who were fined $500 and suspendedfrom school after a college student posted a death threat on theirWeb site’s bulletin board. The school board dropped the punishmentafter the ACLU intervened.

Previous Stories:

Studentsuspended for Web site wins free-speech lawsuit against district,Fall 2000 Report

Judgesays school district cannot punish Web page creator (7/20/00)

Studentsfight Internet censorship, restrictions, Spring 2000 Report