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Indiana teachers sue student over Web site

The Associated Press
08.09.99

INDIANAPOLIS — Three teachers are suing a student, claiming the remarks he posted about them on the Internet disrupted their lives.

The Carmel High School teachers said references to satanism on the student's World Wide Web site left them paranoid in the days after April 20, when two teen-age gunmen killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves in a Littleton, Colo., high school.

"I think the school did what they could do. They kept telling us you could take this in your own hands," geography teacher Jill Grimes said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, which was filed on Aug. 6.

The student is expected to be in class when school resumes Aug. 16. He had been scheduled to attend a class taught by one of the teachers mentioned on the Web site.

His mother, Laurie Hansen, could not be reached for comment. No phone listing could be found for her in the Carmel area.

The other plaintiffs are Sharen Newman, a science teacher, and Helen Shiffer, who teaches English. Grimes was the only one of the three who had the boy in class.

"The kid couldn't give us a reason why he posted the Web site," Grimes said. "I had sent many kids to the dean's office, and I never had to do that to him. I thought we had a pretty good rapport."

The Web site contained a number of satanic references, one of which took the initials for Carmel High School and used them to spell "Come Hail Satan." Some of the things visitors saw on the site were a large flaming devil with outstretched arms, a red flaming pentagram and other satanic symbols.

The site posted a list of 11 Carmel teachers and administrators, accused them of being "Satan-worshipping demons" and encouraged students to tease them.

"Whenever you see these teachers in the hallway or in class tell them you know of their secret double identity and shun them for it," the Web site stated. "Better yet, after you inform them of your knowledge, point at them and laugh in their faces."

A user could click on a teacher's name, which would allow the user to send an e-mail to the teacher. The e-mail address for the site was "tyme-2-dye."

The site, launched in January, registered 44 hits from March 18 to April 22 and has since been shut down.

When school administrators confronted the boy about the Web site, the boy apologized but claimed it was simply a big joke, Newman said.

Carmel Clay Superintendent R. Stephen Tegarden said school confidentiality rules prevented him from discussing any disciplinary actions that were taken once the Web site was discovered.

School authorities, after being tipped off by a friend of the site's creator, discovered the Web site April 21, one day after the Columbine shootings that left 15 people dead. Joke or not, the teachers say this left them especially paranoid to attack.

"Freedom of speech is one thing; defamation and threat is another," Newman said.

She said that one day she became so distraught over the Web site, while she was arranging equipment in her science lab, she suddenly burst into tears and ran out of the building. She said she felt like there was always someone watching her over her shoulder.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress against the student, and $5,000 in damages against Laurie Hansen. State law limits damages that can be paid by parents on behalf of their children at $5,000.

"I think it's very unusual, extremely unusual for teachers to sue their students," said Richard Darko, legal counsel for the three teachers. "But at the same time, students are becoming more active in threatening and intimidating teachers and I think it's appropriate for them to respond the best way they can."


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