Michigan student takes school to court over suspension

MICHIGAN — A student who was suspended from MountPleasant High School after reading a parody he wrote about theschool’s new tardiness policy filed a lawsuit against the schoolon Sept. 5.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed the suitagainst Mount Pleasant School District, following the October2000 suspension of Alex Smith, 17, for what was termed by theschool as "verbal assault."

Smith’s three-page written commentary on the tardiness policywas not intended to be heard by school officials, but was broughtto the attention of the administration after a teacher overheardhim reading it to a group of peers in the cafeteria.

Smith stated in his commentary that the principal’s name wasassociated in his mind with the words "skank" and "tramp."He also said the principal had divorced her husband after havingan affair with another principal, according to the complaint filedby Smith.

"I never intended for the principal to see or hear it,"Smith said, according to a press release from the ACLU of Michigan."It was meant as a joke and I’m truly sorry that people wereoffended."

The "Verbal Assault Policy" outlined in the MountPleasant Student Code of Conduct defines assault as the act of"threatening the well-being, health, safety, or dignity ofpersons on school property," according to the complaint filedin the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The Student Code of Conduct required the punishment of suspension,contending that he had violated the "Verbal Assault Policy."

ACLU cooperating attorney Richard Landau said the lawsuit would"challenge the rules of student conduct under which Alex[Smith] was charged and suspended, as well as the state authorizingstatute which renders ‘verbal assaults’ a violation for whichsuspension and expulsion may be used as a form of discipline."

Since the incident, Smith has voluntarily written letters ofapology to the principal and other school personnel mentionedin his commentary. Superintendent Gary Allen reduced Smith’s originalten-day suspension to eight days after Smith agreed to undergoa voluntary psychological screening at Mount Pleasant CounselingServices.

Landau said he is requesting a court order to clear Smith’srecord along with a declaration that the school rules governingSmith’s suspension are in violation of the constitutions of theUnited States and Michigan.

"This case is another example how zero tolerance lawsare being used to squelch free expression," Kary Moss, executivedirector of the Michigan ACLU, said in the press release. "Schoolsshould be teaching students about the Constitution, not punishingthem for exercising their rights."

Full text of the complaint is available on the ACLU of Michigan Web site at: http://www.aclumich.org/briefs/Brief66569v4.htm