Texas high school apologizes for reprimanding student that wrote letter to editor of local newspaper

A student who sued his schooldistrict after he was scolded for writing a letter to the editor of the localpaper has agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

An agreement was reachedafter Crosbyton High School student Justin Latimer, his parents, schoolofficials and their lawyers met this month. According to the settlement, theschool will include a statement of support of student free expression in itsstudent handbook. The district also agreed to apologize to Justin and reimbursethe Latimers more than $13,000 in attorney fees.

In Sept. 2001 Latimerwrote a letter to the editor of the Crosby County News and Chronicle inwhich he said he was disappointed in the high school band director’sdecision not to play “Amazing Grace” at a football game. The songwas meant to be a tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terroristattacks.

Principal Larry Morris later called Justin into a meeting withthe band director where he was scolded for writing the letter and told that it“hurt the school, the band and Morris personally,” according to theLatimers’ suit. The suit alleged that Morris told Latimer not to write anymore letters to the editor without first seeking permission.
Morris and theschool district have denied any wrongdoing, saying that the settlement wassought to avoid a costly court battle.

“I do know that at no timedid we ever try to limit that student’s freedom of speech,” said Morris inan article published by The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on Dec.4.

Court documents said Morris believed Latimer’s letter wasinaccurate.

The new handbook language will state that the district has“always” supported a student’s right to freedom of expressionoutside of school as long as it is “expressed in such a way that theConstitution and laws of the United States and the State of Texas are notviolated.”

SPLC View: A familiar refrain from these quarters: howon earth can professional educators be so ignorant about these things? But sincethey are, here is Administrators’ First Amendment Refresher Lesson #162: Students have the right to submit letters to the editor of their local newspaperwithout first obtaining permission from their principal.