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

Two years after administrators suspended him for his parody Web site, Karl Beidler finally has something to celebrate.

Following negotiations between the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which represented Beidler, and the North Thurston County School District, a judge approved earlier this month a settlement granting Beidler $10,000 in damages and $52,000 in attorney’s fees.

“We’re very pleased with the decision,” ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said. “It makes clear that school officials can’t discipline students for free speech activities outside of school. And it also makes clear that the First Amendment applies to cyberspace just as much as it applies to written speech.”

The settlement came after a July 2000 ruling by a Thurston County Superior Court judge who found that the school district violated Beidler’s freedom-of-speech rights when officials suspended him for a personal Web site he created that made fun of the school’s assistant principal.

Beidler, then a junior at Timberline High School, was originally suspended in January 1999 on an “emergency” basis. He was later suspended for a month for “exceptional misconduct.”

The ACLU of Washington recently represented two other students in similar cases. Last year, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of Nick Emmett, a high school senior suspended for a Web site parody he created on his personal computer. Kentlake School 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 suspended from school after a college student posted a death threat on their Web site’s bulletin board. The school board dropped the punishment after the ACLU intervened.