ACLU Represents Student Facing Expulsion For the "Crime" of Being on a List

June 21, 1999 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Rhode Island
Media Contact
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United States

Monday, June 21, 1999

PROVIDENCE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island said today it is filing an administrative appeal on behalf of a sixth-grade student who was suspended and threatened with expulsion simply because his name appeared on the list of a student involved in a shoving match.

Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said the incident demonstrates how rational judgment has disappeared among some school officials since the Columbine shooting tragedy.

“We will vigorously pursue this appeal, because parents need to know that they do not have to sit back and let their children be subjected to arbitrary and capricious punishments,” Brown said.

The controversy arose on May 28, when 12-year-old “John Doe” (who remains anonymous) was advised by officials at Kickemuit Middle School that he was being suspended for 10 days because he was deemed to be a “member of a group which was involved in threats to other students.”

Specifically, the boy’s name appeared on a list that another student involved in a school shoving incident had in his possession. The school did not cite any evidence of illegal conduct by Doe, who had never been suspended before, nor was anything other than the presence of his name on the list used to justify the suspension.

Ten days after the student’s suspension expired, he received a letter from School Superintendent Guy DiBiasio further suspending him for the rest of the school year and advising him that officials would also be considering whether to additionally suspend him “for up to one year.”

Although three weeks have passed since the initial suspension, the school has provided no evidence to the boy’s parents that he ever acted improperly or threatened anyone.

Doe’s father said his son was traumatized by the whole affair. “I’m concerned about the safety of the schools, but there’s a point where you go overboard,” he said. “”What’s to stop anybody else from putting somebody’s name on a piece of paper and saying they committed some kind of crime? You can affect a child’s life for a very long time by accusing him like this.”

ACLU volunteer attorney Maureen Conroy, who is representing Doe in his administrative appeal, agreed.

“Students and parents are entitled to a safe school environment,” she said. “However, our students are also protected by the fundamental rights contained in our Constitution. What we teach and what we do should not be contradictory.”

“Our son is a good boy,” Doe’s father added. “The only thing he should be thinking about right now is riding his bike, playing baseball, and going swimming with his friends, instead of coming up to me and saying ‘Dad, maybe we should move,’ or ‘Dad, is anybody going to like me when I go back to school?'”

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