Settlement reached in student’s lawsuit against Ore. school district

OREGON —The Beaverton School District will pay $20,000to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 13-year-old boy who was expelled forcreating an off-campus Web site school administrators deemed offensive.“The school district heard the message that it needs to be morecareful of how far it reaches into students lives,” said Jann Carson,associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union foundation of Oregon. A cooperating attorney with the ACLU represented the student and hismother.The settlement was reached Aug. 28, six months after the filedlawsuit was filed. Carlson Muss, now 16, created the Web site“Sexy (and available) Man” in the fall of 2000 using his homecomputer. The site included statements about his classmates such as: “Youbetter use your breasts to get through life or else you’ll get nowherewith brain intelligence like that,” as well as, “For one, if youdon’t give me respect, death to you and your children and yourchildren’s children.” Muss’ Web page named“people I can stand to be around” and commented: “If you madeit on this list, Kudos to you, you are not on my shit list, which means you getto live another week.” School administrators later claimed such commentsconstituted a threat of violence. Muss said he did not intend his comments tobe taken seriously.When school officials found out about the Web site inJanuary 2001, they required Muss to submit to a psychological evaluation. Thepsychologist concluded Muss did not pose a threat to school safety. Nevertheless, administrators expelled Muss, claiming he violated thedistrict’s policies against “intimidation[,] threats [and]menacing.” Muss requested a hearing, but school officials decidedto expunge the incident from his records before the hearing convened. Mussclaimed that when he later applied for the district’s Art &Communication Magnet Academy, his application was rejected because of his Website. The school district denied the allegation. In January 2003, Mussand his mother, Carla Muss-Jacobs, filed suit in federal court seeking$101,800.The settlement reached by the two parties awards $10,000 toMuss-Jacobs and $10,000 to Muss-Jacobs on behalf of Muss. Muss and his motherwere unavailable for comment.Maureen Wheeler, the Beaverton SchoolDistrict’s spokeswoman, said the settlement does not mean the districtaccepts any liability. She said the district stands behind the actions of theschool administrators. Wheeler cited financial reasons for thedistrict’s decision to settle. If the case went to trial, she said thedistrict expected the already $50,000 cost in legal fees to double. Monetarysupport was provided by a general fund, she said.The Beaverton SchoolDistrict has not revised any of its policies in response to the lawsuit or thesettlement, Wheeler said.Muss told the Portland Oregonian heplans to use the funds from the settlement to pay his legal fees and tuition forthe independent Portland school he now attends.“I just hope thatpeople don’t feel the need to walk on eggshells when there’ssomething that needs to get out there,” he said.Nationwide,similar lawsuits involving students who create off-campus Web sites that aredeemed offensive have generally protected students from punishment.Afederal court in Seattle ruled in 2000 that a school could not suspend a studentwho created mock obituaries on a Web site he built on his home computer. In2002, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled a student could bedisciplined for a personal Web site because the student accessed the site atschool and disrupted the school community.