Third-Grader Suspended Over Fortune Cookie Message

June 14, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, June 14, 1999

HUDSON, OH — At a school board hearing tonight, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation will defend a Hudson third-grader who was suspended from school after penning an allegedly threatening message in a fortune cookie for a school assignment.

Nine-year-old Karl Bauman, who enjoys martial arts videos, submitted “you will die an honorable death” as his contribution to the class project. He was suspended for two days in connection with the incident, which took place on April 30th. On May 6th, Hudson Schools Director of Pupil Services Daniel Seiberling upheld the suspension.

The ACLU became involved in the matter after consulting with Bauman’s family. According to ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Raymond Vasvari, Bauman’s suspension is one of the most extreme cases of student discipline reported to the ACLU since the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado in April.

“We have received literally dozens of complaints of students being punished for minor infractions,” said Vasvari. “But this case is almost unique. Here, the so-called threat is nothing of the sort. No reasonable person could consider this message to be anything more than it is: the innocent, if unknowing, expression of a seemingly noble sentiment by an innocent young boy.”

Since April, school districts around the country have cracked down on student expression both on and off campus. The First Amendment protects student speech in both settings, though schools can limit or punish on campus student speech that is disruptive or obscene.

“Karl Bauman is a victim of the unfortunate rush to squelch student speech after the Columbine shootings,” said Vasvari. “He threatened no one. Death is a fact of life. If merely mentioning death in school can be considered a threat, then we have truly lost our way.”

The school board is expected to issue its decision tonight.

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