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Court sides with teens punished for Web sites' content

By The Associated Press
02.27.05

GREENWOOD, Ark. — A federal judge has ruled in favor of two honor students suspended over the content of Web pages that drew a parent's protest because of the way they depicted athletes and band members.

The judge ordered that no record of the suspensions linger in the students' records — and ordered administrators to never mention that the pair had once been wrongly suspended.

Laura Neal, on behalf of her son Justin Neal, and Ryan Kuhl filed a lawsuit in late August against the school district, Principal Jerry Efurd and Assistant Principal Jim Garvey.

U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren ruled on Feb. 18 that the district violated the students' First Amendment rights and that their Internet postings did not disrupt class. The Web sites were created on the students' home computers, Fort Smith's Times Record reported.

The district had said the postings by the students were inappropriate.

Kuhl, 18, and Neal, 17, are Greenwood High School honor students. They drew three-day suspensions last August after a parent complained about the way athletes and band members were portrayed on the Web sites. Also at issue were language and "hateful comments" on the sites, according to court records.

Three postings by visitors to the Web sites were viewed as threatening to school administrators. However, neither Neal nor Kuhl was responsible for the postings, court records said.

In his ruling, Hendren held Efurd and the district responsible for the action against the students, but said Garvey did not violate the students' First Amendment rights.

Hendren said the students did not substantially disrupt the educational environment at Greenwood, which administrators had alleged.

Hendren ordered Efurd to not punish Neal and Kuhl for the content of their Web sites on or before Jan. 5. A permanent injunction prohibits Efurd or the school district from placing information about the incident in the students' records and they cannot mention the incident to anyone who contacts the district for recommendations about the students.

The ruling also says the students can't be punished for any other Web content that is not disruptive or threatening.

After a hearing in September, Magistrate Judge Beverly Stites Jones had ruled in favor of the school district. The matter was appealed to Hendren.


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