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Student to receive $117,500 from district in free-speech case

By The Associated Press
11.13.05

OCEANPORT, N.J. — The school district will pay $117,500 to a student who was punished for creating a Web site that included critical statements about his middle school.

The settlement of the lawsuit brought nearly two years ago follows a federal judge's ruling last April that Oceanport school administrators violated Ryan Dwyer's free-speech rights.

The settlement was announced Nov. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"While my parents and I are happy the case is resolved, most importantly, I'm hopeful this will help ensure that free-speech rights of students aren't trampled on again in the future," said Dwyer, who is now in 11th grade.

Dwyer created the Web site containing criticism of Maple Place School in April 2003, on his own time from his home computer. Comments posted on the site's "guest book" section angered school officials, who suspended Dwyer for a week, benched him from playing on the baseball team for a month, and barred him from going on his class trip, among other discipline. The district's lawsuit said anti-Semitic remarks were posted on the site, which Dwyer denied writing.

"The school district has never — to this day — explained to us what rule or policy our son violated," said Kevin Dwyer, Ryan's father.

The school district issued a prepared statement that said it solicited advice and guidance from legal advisers and law enforcement officers and acted "on its belief that it was protecting all of the children and the staff in the district."

"In the settlement agreement, the Board of Education expressed its regret for the entire incident that caused a great deal of concern to the Board of Education, its present and former members, as well as the Dwyers," the statement read.

Grayson Barber, who handled the case on behalf of the ACLU, said the school presented no evidence that Dwyer's comments were threatening or disruptive of school activities.

"Our schools should encourage debate and political engagement rather than punishing students who provide a forum for free expression," Barber said.


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N.J. school rapped for punishing student over Web site
Federal judge says eighth-grader's published material didn't constitute true threat, therefore, school couldn't discipline him without violating free speech. 04.04.05

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