ACLU Defends Ohio 8th Grader Expelled for Humorous Web Site Created at Home

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
July 26, 2001 12:00 am

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CLEVELAND–The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the suspension and expulsion of an 8th grade student over a web site he and his friends created off-campus.

Jonathon Coy, 15, together with several friends created an off-campus web site dedicated to skateboarding and humor. In April 2001, officials at North Canton Middle School suspended him for five days and placed him on in school expulsion until November.

“This is yet another sad example of school officials reacting hysterically to innocent student expression,” said Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which is representing the Coy family in federal court. “What students say and do on their own time is between them and their parents, and is not the business of over-zealous administrators.”

Nothing on the site was obscene, Vasvari noted, and teachers, administrators and the North Canton Schools generally were not even mentioned. Despite this, school officials charged Coy with bullying. Local police were also sent to the Coy household to review the tape with Jonathon’s parents, but could find nothing wrong with it.

The web site, which Coy created on his home computer on his own time, featured him and friends in humorous photos and focused on skateboarding, videography and juvenile humor.

The Supreme Court has held that schools may limit student speech in connection with school activities and events, but has never allowed administrators to censor student speech off campus, the ACLU said in legal papers.

“Schools have got to stop playing fast and loose with the constitutional rights of their students,” said Jillian Davis, ACLU Staff Counsel, who also represents Coy. “Jonathan Coy is the latest victim of the zero-tolerance mindset of our schools. He did nothing wrong, but has suffered academically and emotionally as a result of his punishment. This has to stop.”

The ACLU is asking the federal court to declare the school’s action unconstitutional, to end Jonathan’s expulsion and erase it from his record. The lawsuit also seeks money damages.

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