Student suspended for essay settles lawsuit against school district

RHODE ISLAND — The Johnston School District agreedthis month to pay $4,500 to settle a lawsuit brought by a studentwho was given an indefinite suspension based on an essay he wrotefor extra credit.

The school district will also erase the suspension from thedisciplinary record of Johnston High School honor student MatthewParent.

Parent was suspended in October after he turned in an extra-creditwriting assignment-in which he was instructed to use a journalto engage in stream-of-consciousness exercises-to his teacher.The teacher, without discussing the content of the assignmentwith Parent, turned it over to school officials. After reviewingthe material, a school psychologist advised the principal thatbased on his writing Parent could be suicidal or homicidal.

Parent served more than a month of the suspension before schoolofficials reinstated him. The decision to allow Parent to returnto school came two weeks after the American Civil Liberties Unionfiled a lawsuit against the school district for violating hisFirst Amendment rights.

John Dineen, an ACLU cooperating attorney who represented Parent,said this case is indicative of school officials’ overreactionto recent incidents of school violence.

"The really sad part about all of these cases is thatthe kids, whether they like it or not, become viewed as thesepotential Columbine kids, which is grossly unfair," he said."I’m not optimistic that there’s any turning of the tideon some of the overreactions within the schools. In fact, I’mconcerned that things may get worse before they get better."