Ohio ACLU Defends Students Suspended Over Gothic-Themed Website

May 3, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, May 3, 1999

CLEVELAND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said today that it would represent six of the eleven students who were suspended from Field High School in Brimfield, Ohio, after contributing to a gothic-theme web site.

The offer of representation came after a round of weekend meetings between the students, their parents, and members of the ACLU legal staff. As many as eleven students were suspended for involvement with the off-campus web site in the wake of the tragic shootings in Colorado in late April. Two students face expulsion hearings this morning.

ACLU Legal Director Raymond Vasvari said today that the suspensions, and the threatened expulsions, violate the First Amendment rights of the students involved.

“Students have a right to free expression,” Vasvari said. “In cases such as this, where the material in question was prepared and distributed off campus, and is neither obscene nor directly threatening, school officials simply cannot punish students for being involved with a web site the officials dislike.”

The Ohio ACLU has received more than a dozen complaints of overzealous discipline against high school students in the wake of the Colorado shooting. Nationally, literally hundreds of complaints have poured into ACLU state affiliate offices.

“What happened in Colorado was tragic,” Vasvari said today, “but it would be doubly tragic if those who took so many lives in Littleton were allowed to rob children across America of their right to free expression as well.”

Attorneys for the ACLU plan to be present to contest the proposed expulsion of two Field High School students this morning, and are prepared to take whatever legal action is necessary to clear the record of the six students they represent.

“We hope to achieve an amiable solution to the entire matter,” said Associate Legal Director Gino Scarselli, “but if we cannot, we will not hesitate to seek our relief in the courts.”

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