Student gets $90,000 in settlement with school district

PENNSYLVANIA — A student who was expelled over rap lyrics deemed threatening by school officials received $90,000 in a settlement with the school district last week.

Anthony Latour was arrested in April on charges of making "terroristic threats" and harassment through his rap lyrics, which he posted from home on his personal Web site. After his arrest, the Riverside Beaver School District expelled Latour from the district’s schools for the rest of last year and all of this year.

The following is a sample from a song Latour, who goes by the rap alias “emceeaccident,” wrote titled “Actin’ Fast ft. Grimey”: “So watch what you’re saying, I’m everywhere son/And the word of mouth is that I’m carrying guns/Now that I’m coming for you — what the fuck you going to do/I come double with the pump tons of slugs that will punish you.”

Chief Judge Donetta Ambrose of the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh granted a preliminary injunction in August that temporarily overturned Latour’s expulsion, allowing him to return to school while the case was decided. Ambrose concluded Latour’s songs, while violent, did not constitute a true threat and were therefore protected by the First Amendment.

In addition to the monetary settlement, the school district "agreed to amend its policy regarding the circumstances under which it can exclude students from school because of their speech and to provide a letter to the Latour family which includes a statement acknowledging that Anthony Latour has not threatened the school or students by way of his songs," according to a statement issued last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Greg Fox, an attorney representing the school district, said the district was satisfied with the settlement.

John Latour said the family’s first priority was getting the letter from the school board vindicating his son. He said he hopes the letter will have a positive impact on the outcome of his son’s criminal case. Charges are still pending against Anthony Latour in Beaver County District Court.

Latour said having the school board’s speech policy changed was also very important, as it will protect the rights of future students at Riverside.

Fox said future cases in the district similar to Latour’s would be scrutinized in light of the policy change and the judge’s opinion in granting the preliminary injunction.

The money was a "token thing," John Latour said. "We wouldn’t do it over for a million dollars."

Kim Watterson, Latour’s attorney, said she is pleased with the settlement, calling it a victory for students’ rights, according to the ACLU statement.

"The settlement not only resolves the Latours’ dispute with the school district, but also results in important changes to the school policy, ensuring that Riverside students’ speech rights will be protected – especially when they are in their own homes," Watterson said in the statement.

John Latour said that better communication could have helped to avoid the entire situation. Instead of having law enforcement immediately get involved, he said, school administrators should have called them to talk about their problem.

Latour, who has supported his son’s rap endeavors "for better or for worse," said it was a matter of school officials – who do not understand rap music and took the lyrics out of context – trying to make a statement to the community that they were being proactive about school violence.

—by Clay Gaynor, SPLC staff writer