Students receive settlement after off-campus movie got them expelled

INDIANA — Three Knightstown High School students who were expelled for making a movie off-campus about a teddy bear that kills a teacher will share a $69,000 settlement from the school district.

The district also agreed to remove the sophomore students’ expulsions from their records as part of the settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by the students, who said their First Amendment rights had been violated when they were expelled in October 2006, according to the Indianapolis Star. The school board approved the settlement on March 21.

In December 2006, a Indiana district court issued a preliminary injunction that ruled in the students favor and allowed them to return to school. The students returned to classes in January.

Students Charlie Ours, Issac Imel and Cody Overbay were expelled by the school district after creating “The Teddy Bear Master,” a movie in which students mock a teacher character with the same last name as a seventh grade teacher at the district’s middle school, according to the Star. The teddy bear master orders other stuffed animals to kill the teacher because of an earlier embarrassment.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and other private attorneys represented the students in the case.

Jackie Suess, a lawyer for the ACLU of Indiana who worked on the case, said it is important to defend student free expression rights.

“The First Amendment obviously is a big issue, especially in high schools,” she said. “We need to help the kids remind schools that they still have First Amendment rights.”

A fourth student, Harrison Null, was also part of the movie production and expelled, but did not participate in the lawsuit. He was also allowed to return to school in January along with the others, according to the Star.

Attorneys for the district argued that the movie was a threat against the teacher and disrupted school activities, according to the Star. They also said the students did not follow the proper appeals process for the expulsion before suing.

By Jared Taylor, SPLC staff writer