Texas school apologized for reprimanding student for letter to editor

TEXAS — A student who sued his school district afterhe was scolded for writing a letter to the editor of the local paper has agreedto an out-of-court settlement.An agreement was reached after CrosbytonHigh School student Justin Latimer, his parents, school officials and theirlawyers met on Monday. According to the settlement, the school will include astatement of support of student free expression in its student handbook. Thedistrict also agreed to apologize to Justin and reimburse the Latimers more than$13,000 in attorney fees.In Sept. 2001 Latimer wrote a letter to theeditor of the Crosby County News and Chronicle in which he said he wasdisappointed in the high school band director’s decision not to play“Amazing Grace” at a football game. The song was meant to be atribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.Principal LarryMorris later called Justin into a meeting with the band director where he wasscolded for writing the letter and told that it “hurt the school, the bandand Morris personally,” according to the Latimers’ suit. The suitalleged that Morris told Latimer not to write any more letters to the editorwithout first seeking permission.Morris and the school district havedenied any wrongdoing, saying that the settlement was sought to avoid a costlycourt battle.“I just do know that at no time did we ever try tolimit that students freedom of speech,” said Morris in an articlepublished by The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on Dec. 4.Courtdocuments said Morris believed Latimer’s letter was inaccurate.Thenew handbook language will state that the district has “always”supported a student’s right to freedom of expression outside of school aslong as it is “expressed in such a way that the Constitution and laws ofthe United States and the State of Texas are not violated.”