School affirms speech rights

TEXAS ‘ A student who sued his school district after he was scolded for writing a letter to the editor of the local paper has agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

An agreement was reached after Crosbyton High School student Justin Latimer, his parents, school officials and their lawyers met in December. According to the settlement, the school will include a statement of support of student free expression in its student handbook. The district also agreed to apologize to Latimer and reimburse his parents more than $13,000 in attorney fees.

In Sept. 2001 Latimer wrote a letter to the editor of the Crosby County News and Chronicle in which he said he was disappointed by the high school band director’s decision not to play ‘Amazing Grace’ at a football game. The song was meant to be a tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Principal Larry Morris later called Latimer into a meeting with the band director where he was scolded for writing the letter and told that it ‘hurt the school, the band and Morris personally,’ according to the Latimers’ suit. The suit alleged that Morris told Latimer not to write any more letters to the editor without first seeking permission.

Morris and the school district have denied any wrongdoing, saying that the settlement was sought to avoid a costly court battle.

‘I just do know that at no time did we ever try to limit that students’ freedom of speech,’ said Morris in an article published by The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on Dec. 4.

Court documents said Morris believed Latimer’s letter was inaccurate.

The new handbook language will state that the district has ‘always’ supported a student’s right to freedom of expression outside of school as long as it is ‘expressed in such a way that the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of Texas are not violated.’