ACLU Urges Boston School to Annul Suspension of Creative Student

April 27, 2000 12:00 am

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BOSTON, MA — When Boston Latin Academy suspended Charles Carithers for writing a vivid horror story as assigned by his English teacher, the school not only violated the rights of the student, but violated the principles of free expression which the school should be jealously guarding, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said today.

According to the ACLU, Carithers was so successful in fulfilling his writing assignment that he frightened his English teacher. Instead of getting a high grade for his effort, he got suspended because the teacher “took it personally.”

“What kind of a message does it send to students when they are punished based upon the content of their work, when creative, vivid writing becomes the basis for suspension?” said ACLU of Massachusetts executive director John Roberts. “What message does it send students when they must learn to temper their work for fear of retribution from those who are charged to teach them creative composition?”

The ACLU of Massachusetts is calling upon Superintendent Payzant to intercede in the Boston Latin incident by annulling the suspension of Carithers and issuing a clear statement articulating the principles of free expression that could help restore integrity to the Boston school system and protect students from future punishment based upon the content of their academic work.

“If the English teacher cannot handle expressive writing, then such assignments should not be made, or better yet, perhaps the teacher should seek another line of work,” Roberts said.

Roberts said that the suspension is symbolic of the over-reaction to the 1999 shooting tragedy at Columbine High School. Educators throughout the country are punishing students for what they say and write. All too often, the academic institution which should be teaching the values of a free society to its students has become not only a censor, but a punisher, disciplining students for engaging in activities which are specifically constitutionally protected.

“Certainly schools should be safe, and students should feel safe in school, but the Columbine-type incidents must be kept in perspective,” Roberts said. “It is worth noting that statistics indicate that students are safer at school then they are in their own communities, in cars, and even in their own homes.”

According to the ACLU, zero tolerance for weapons and illegal substances has become zero tolerance for expression in violation of the Student Free Expression Act, upheld in 1996 by the Supreme Judicial Court, which gives Massachusetts’ students the broadest free speech rights in the nation.

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