MA High School Settles Free Speech Case; Senior No Longer Banned from Prom and Graduation

May 15, 2002 12:00 am

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BOSTON–Facing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, officials from Holliston High School today agreed to end the punishment imposed on Amanda Melanson, a high school senior who displayed a protest sign during the school’s annual talent show.

“”We are pleased by this settlement, but are sorry that we were forced to bring a lawsuit at all,”” said Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Wunsch also thanked federal court judge David Mazzone for his efforts in resolving the dispute. “”I hope Holliston school officials have learned more about the importance of respecting the First Amendment rights of high school students. That would be a good lesson for everyone,”” she added.

Following the protest incident, school officials had suspended Melanson from school for two days and banned her from all extracurricular activities, including the senior prom and graduation. The ACLU lawsuit, filed on May 2, sought an emergency order so that Melanson could attend those once-in-a-lifetime events. The settlement will also allow her to participate in all extracurricular activities.

The incident arose at the end of the annual talent show known as the “Senior Showcase.” All the seniors, including Melanson, rushed onto the stage, screaming, yelling, and dancing. Melanson and a friend used this opportunity to hold up signs which read, “Free Willie,” “Free Willie and Quinn,” and “You Should Have Been Here.” The messages referred to Michael Quinn and William Lichter, whose expulsion from school is being hotly debated in Holliston.

Other students with them on the stage waved a Canadian flag and a T-shirt with other messages. Many students were wearing T-shirts that also contained printed messages. Only the students holding signs supporting the expelled classmates were disciplined.

“”I believe I had every right to display that sign and to support my friends William Lichter and Michael Quinn who I feel were treated unfairly by the Administration,”” Melanson said today. “”While I am not sorry for using my First Amendment rights, I am sorry for offending anyone who did not agree with my views or who thought I should have displayed my sign in a different place.””

A previous news release about the case is online at /node/9745

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