After ACLU of Colorado Intervention, High School Student Suspended for Off-Campus Internet Posting Is Back in School

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
February 21, 2006 12:00 am

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LITTLETON, CO — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado announced today that an agreement has been reached between Littleton High School and school authorities and junior Bryan Lopez, who was suspended for posting satirical commentary about the school the Internet.

Lopez is now back in school after ACLU of Colorado attorneys reached an agreement with school district officials on Monday evening, averting a federal lawsuit they were prepared to file on Lopez’s behalf Tuesday morning.

“I am pleased that Littleton school officials were willing to resolve this dispute without a lawsuit,” said Hugh Gottschalk, an ACLU of Colorado cooperating attorney on Lopez’s case. “A student’s right of expression is protected by the First Amendment. School authorities have some ability to regulate students’ expressive activities on school grounds and at school-related functions. But school authorities do not have the right to impose discipline for statements that students make off campus, especially when, as in this case, those statements do not cause any material disruption of the educational process.”

Lopez used his home computer to post his commentary on the web site on February 7. The message contained satirical commentary about the poor physical condition of Littleton High School, the behavior and demographics of students and staff, the perceived racial biases of teachers and administrators, and the poor quality of the resources available to students.

Once posted, the commentary was not accessible to students from any school computers, because the school’s Internet filters block access to Nor was the commentary accessible to the general public; it was available only to specific persons to whom. Lopez had provided a password.

“Apparently one of Bryan Lopez’s classmates accessed the website, copied the commentary, and then re-posted it on his own website,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director.

Soon after, Littleton High School administrators obtained a copy of Lopez’s satirical commentary. On February 10, they suspended him for five days on the basis of a school policy that forbids students from engaging in conduct, either on campus or off-campus, “that is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other students or district employees.” The school superintendent then added an additional 10 days to the suspension, to give administrators additional time to decide whether to begin proceedings to expel Lopez from school. He missed six days of school before the ACLU and the school district resolved the controversy.

“The school district deserves credit for agreeing to resolve this issue promptly, allow Mr. Lopez back in school, and remove all mention of the suspension from our client’s school record,” Silverstein said. “Although the ACLU was prepared to file a lawsuit on Tuesday morning,” he added, “our client risked missing even more days of classes while we waited for the court to rule.”

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