Ga. students sue school over suspensions for online comments

GEORGIA —- Two high school seniors and theirfathers have sued the Gwinnett County School District, claiming officialsviolated the students’ First Amendment rights by suspending the studentsfor comments they posted on an off-campus Web site.According to thelawsuit filed Aug. 22 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Brookwood High Schoolstudents Lloyd ”L.E.” Goldsmith Jr. and Edward Alexander Morgan weresuspended March 7 after administrators said their comments — posted onanother student’s Web site — threatened a Brookwood High Schoolteacher. The Web site, used by students and others to ventfrustrations about the teacher, included ”some hypothetical scenarioswhich visualized some fictional acts,” but ”did not contain anydirect threats or expressions of any intent to commit any violent acts,”the lawsuit said. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil LibertiesUnion of Georgia and two Decatur, Ga., attorneys, does not identify the teacher.The Gwinnett County School District, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanksand Brookwood High School Principal Jane Stegall are named asdefendants.Victoria Sweeny, the attorney for the Gwinnett County SchoolDistrict, said Goldsmith and Morgan were among the approximately 25 students whoposted comments on the site.Citing court documents, Sweeny saidGoldsmith, using the name ”Twitchy,” posted on the site,”Filthy [expletive] gotta die!,” referring to the teacher. Goldsmith also described a fictional assault in which a janitor rammed a mopthrough the teacher’s head so that a wig could be sold to headhunters,Sweeny said. Morgan, who used the pseudonym ”AngryStudent,”posted that he wanted to impale the teacher with a fence post, Sweenysaid.Morgan reportedly later retracted the comments, saying they wereonly meant as a joke.The lawsuit said an unidentified student reportedthe Web site to a teacher in March. School officials suspended Goldsmith for28 days and ordered him to perform 40 hours of community service. Morgan was suspended for 10 days and required to perform20 hours of community service. Administrators said the commentsviolated the district’s policies, including one that prohibits ”anyexpression (oral, written, or gesture) which could have the effect of undermining the authority of the school employee including posting on or offcampus Internet

Read previous coverage