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Pennsylvania high court upholds student's expulsion over Web site

By The Associated Press

EASTON, Pa. — The state Supreme Court has upheld the 1998 expulsion of a high school student who created a Web site that contained obscene and violent images directed against a teacher.

Justin Swidler, of Hanover Township, was expelled from Nitschmann Middle School when he was 14. His "Teacher Sux" Web site ridiculed algebra teacher Kathleen Fulmer's physical characteristics and teaching abilities and included a solicitation for money to pay for a hit man.

Swidler's parents sued the Bethlehem Area School District, saying the expulsion violated Justin's constitutional right to free speech and punished him for no legitimate purpose.

But the state Supreme Court decision, released Sept. 26, upheld previous decisions by the Commonwealth Court and Northampton County Court in favor of the school district.

The court said that while it didn't appear from the site that Swidler intended to hurt Fulmer, the site disrupted the school environment, which justified the expulsion.

School district lawyer Jeffrey Tucker says the decision lets districts know that they can expel students who use the Internet like Swidler.

Defense attorney Robert Sletvold said he needed more time to read the opinion before commenting.

In November 2000, a jury ordered Swidler's parents to pay Fulmer $500,000. Fulmer, who was unable to complete the 1997-98 school year and took a medical leave of absence the next year, said she suffered emotional trauma as a result of the Web site.

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