Student files lawsuit to clear disciplinary record

GEORGIA — A student suspended for writing a journal entry school officials deemed threatening filed a lawsuit last week asking for her disciplinary record to be cleared.

Rachel Boim, then 14 and a student at Roswell High School, was expelled in October 2003 for a year after her art teacher confiscated her private journal when she passed it to a classmate. The school district later reduced Boim’s punishment to a 10-day suspension that remains on her record.

Boim’s attorney Don Keenan said Boim, now 16 and attending a private school, will be applying to college soon and is worried about having to put the suspension on her applications.

The journal entry in question describes a girl who falls asleep in class and dreams of shooting her math teacher. The story ends when the school bell rings, waking the student. She gathers her books and goes to her next class. The math teacher was not named.

Keenan said he filed the suit in Fulton County Superior Court instead of a federal court in hopes of resolving the issue more quickly.

Boim was suspended for violating the student code of conduct, which prohibits students from making threats against the school, Mitzi Edge, a Fulton schools spokeswoman, has said.

“Zero tolerance does not mean zero common sense,” Keenan said, explaining that the journal entry was obviously a work of fiction.

The school board disagreed, he said, saying it was a terrorist threat.

Keenan said the case is a First Amendment issue and that is how he plans to argue it. He added that at the Boim Family’s request, “We engaged in vigorous attempts to settle before we filed suit.”

David Bottoms, Georgia’s poet laureate and a professor of creative writing at Georgia State University, testified on Rachel Boim’s behalf at her school board hearing in 2003.

“It was clear to anyone who isn’t an absolute moron that it was fiction,” Bottoms said. “It was creative writing.”

“I thought it was a really important thing to do,” Bottoms said of testifying, adding that he plans to speak on Rachel’s behalf during her new case.

“It’s certainly a matter of free speech and artistic freedom,” Bottoms said. “We’re in a sad state when the government, any government, tells us what we can and can’t write.”

The suit seeks only $1 in damages, Keenan said, because the Boims want to make it clear that the suit is not about money — just clearing their daughter’s record.

The suit also asks for a change in the code of conduct regarding student expression, stating that the current regulations are “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Susan Hale, a Fulton County School District spokeswoman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

by Clay Gaynor, SPLC staff writer

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