California student pamphleteer gets his apology

It may have taken a year, but a student at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego finally got the apology he said he deserved.

Christopher Hu, who was a junior in April 2001, said school administrators threatened to punish him for distributing pamphlets that advised students of their rights not to take a state-mandated standardized test. The pamphlet included reasons not to take the test and instructions for opting out of it.

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego helped negotiate the settlement. As part of the agreement, principal David Le May wrote a formal apology to Hu, acknowledging his rights to distribute the material under the First Amendment and the state education code. The incident will also be cleared from Hu’s record and the school promised not to interfere with the distribution of materials by other students.

The dispute began when Hu attempted to pass out copies of his pamphlet before and after school and during lunch in accordance with the district’s policy for distributing non-school-sponsored materials. Administrators threatened him with disciplinary action unless he collected all of the copies he handed out. When Hu refused to comply, his bag was searched and administrators took the pamphlets.

The ACLU hailed the settlement as a victory for students.

“School administrators cannot ban the distribution of student material merely because they disagree with what those materials say,” said Dale Manicom, a volunteer attorney with the San Diego chapter. “Students do not lose their constitutional rights just because they have crossed the threshold of a school building”