Thursday, May 21, 2009

School violated boy's rights when it suspended him for his website

Student unfairly disciplined for Web site, U.S. judge rules
An eighth grader was suspended for creating a site critical of his school in Monmouth County
Apr. 04, 2005
By Krista Larson
Associated Press

TRENTON - A Monmouth County eighth grader who was suspended for a week from Oceanport's Maple Place Middle School after creating a Web site where he wrote about hating the school should not have been disciplined, a federal judge has ruled.

Ryan Dwyer, now 16 and a high school sophomore, "did not himself publish any material which constituted a true threat," District Judge Stanley R. Chesler wrote in his decision issued Thursday.

Therefore, Dwyer could not be disciplined on that basis without violating the First Amendment right to free speech, the judge wrote. Dwyer and his parents had filed a lawsuit in December 2003 in U.S. District Court in Trenton.

Launched in April 2003, the Web site greeted users with the legend "Welcome to the Anti-Maple Place - Your Friendly Environment," and said: "This page is dedicated to showing students why their school isn't what it's cracked up to be. You may be shocked at what you find on this site."...

Student gets $117,500 in website free speech case

USA Today, AP

A New Jersey school district will pay $117,500 to a student who was punished for creating a website that included critical statements about his middle school.

The settlement of the lawsuit brought nearly two years ago follows a decision by a federal judge ruling that Oceanport school administrators violated Ryan Dwyer's free speech rights.

The settlement was announced Sunday by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"While my parents and I are happy the case is resolved, most importantly, I'm hopeful this will help ensure that free speech rights of students aren't trampled on again in the future," said Dwyer, who is now in 11th grade.

Dwyer created the website containing criticism of Maple Place School in April 2003, on his own time from his home computer. Comments posted on the site's "guest book" section angered school officials, who suspended Dwyer for a week, benched him from playing on the baseball team for a month, and barred him from going on his class trip, among other discipline. The district's lawsuit said anti-Semitic remarks were posted on the site, which Dwyer denied writing.

"The school district has never — to this day — explained to us what rule or policy our son violated," said Kevin Dwyer, Ryan's father.

The school district issued a prepared statement that said it solicited advice and guidance from legal advisers and law enforcement officers and acted "on its belief that it was protecting all of the children and the staff in the district."

"In the settlement agreement, the Board of Education expressed its regret for the entire incident that caused a great deal of concern to the Board of Education, its present and former members, as well as the Dwyers," the statement read.

Grayson Barber, who handled the case on behalf of the ACLU, said the school presented no evidence that Dwyer's comments were threatening or disruptive of school activities.

"Our schools should encourage debate and political engagement rather than punishing students who provide a forum for free expression," Barber said.

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