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Federal judge halts suspension of student punished over Web site

The Associated Press
02.24.00

SEATTLE — A federal judge has ordered Kentlake High School to drop its suspension of a student over a Web site the teen had created on his home computer.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour issued the temporary restraining order yesterday against Kentlake High. He said school officials lack authority to punish students for exercising their freedom of speech outside of school.

The Web site had included "obituaries" of other students, with their permission. The student shut down the site after a television news report suggested it contained a "hit list" threatening people, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The ACLU represented principal site creator Nick Emmett, who was suspended for five days after the site was removed from cyberspace.

Coughenour said the Kent School District presented "no evidence that the mock obituaries and voting were intended to threaten anyone, did actually threaten anyone, or manifested any violent tendencies whatsoever."

Emmett said the order reaffirmed his right to free speech, adding, "My main goal is to go back to school. That's the most important thing."

Emmett is co-captain of the school basketball team and the second-leading scorer in the South Puget Sound League. The judge's ruling cleared him to play in today's West Central District playoff game against Bethel High School, said Kent School District spokeswoman Becky Hanks.

Emmett and a friend created the Web site on Feb. 12 and 13, calling it the "Unofficial Kentlake High Home Page."

The aim was to promote discussion among students, according to the ACLU.

One fake obituary was posted, and other students asked to have their "obits" written. A feature was added to the Web site enabling people to vote for the next fake obituary.

Emmett was praised for the Web site by students and teachers, the ACLU said.

On Feb. 16, a television reporter interviewed Emmett, and a report on television that night suggested the "hit list" angle.

The suspension was ordered by school administrators on Feb. 18.


Update
Washington student, school district settle dispute over Web site
School district agrees to pay Nick Emmett $1 in damages, $6000 in legal fees and to expunge suspension from his record. 04.03.00

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