Mich. school district revokes students’ suspensions for underground paper, revises policy

MICHIGAN — Last week, the South Lyon Board ofEducation rescinded suspensions issued to three South Lyon High School studentsfor attempting to distribute their underground newspaper, The FirstAmendment, as a part of a settlement to the students’ lawsuit, a districtofficial confirmed.The South Lyon Community Schools also agreed to pay$32,000 in attorney fees and revised a policy on the distribution of“outside materials,” said Marilyn Mitchell, assistant superintendentfor administrative services.The American Civil Liberties Union ofMichigan filed a lawsuit in June 2002 on behalf of students Joshua Woodcock,Daniel Woodcock and Daniel Schaefer, who were suspended for planning to leavecopies of The First Amendment in common areas on campus before schoolbegan on May 29, 2002. The First Amendment included articlescriticizing adults who tell jokes about Arabs and Muslims and the principal forthreatening to file criminal charges against students who carry out a seniorprank. In the publication, an assistant principal also was referred to as a“sadistic tyrant.”Principal Larry Jackson issued 5-daysuspensions to the boys for “interfering with the operation of a schoolbuilding,” although they never distributed their newspaper. Jackson alsosuspended them for attempting to distribute the publication without priorapproval, a policy the students were not aware of because it was not written inthe student handbook.Under the settlement, the students, who wererepresented by Andrew Nickelhoff in cooperation with the ACLU of Michigan, willhave their suspensions expunged from their records.Nickelhoff said in astatement that the settlement was “a near totalvictory.”“We negotiated at length with the district to comeup with the policy that is light years better from what was there before,”he said.The revised policy allows students to distribute “outsidematerials” during lunch from a pre-determined area. It requires studentsto submit materials to the administration for approval prior to distribution.Administrators have two days to provide or deny permission for distribution andif the students disagree with an administrator’s decision they can appealit to the school district. This policy also narrows criteria for whatmaterials can be denied based on content. The former policy said anadministrator could bar material that was “offensive.” Now anadministrator must show the material is “grossly offensive to a reasonableperson.”Mitchell said the board approved the policy inJanuary.“We’re happy with the policy,” Mitchell said.“We believe its going to be a good tool for us to use if this mattershould happen to come up again.”The policy will be printedannually in the student handbook and be made available at each school districtbuilding, the local library and on the district’s Web site.

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