Hacker instructions result in expulsion


Federal appellate court boots student from school during senior year





WISCONSIN — Rather than spending the last half of his senior year coasting through classes and kicking back with friends, one student journalist has found himself tossed out of school.

Justin Boucher was expelled from Greenfield High School in January after a federal appeals court decided that the school board could continue his expulsion until his trial concludes.

“The utter defeat of the board’s disciplinary efforts when confronted by a self-proclaimed ‘hacker’ is clearly a substantial harm,” the three-judge panel ruled in Boucher v. School Board of Greenfield, No. 97-3433 (7th Cir., Jan. 9, 1998).

In June 1997, the Greenfield School District voted unanimously to expel Boucher after his article that described how to hack into school computers appeared in an underground newspaper, The Last. The newspaper expressed its commitment to free speech, claiming: “No censorship is impossible to achieve and wouldn1t make for a very good paper, so we1ll settle for a minimum of censorship. We will accept anything so long as it has some point or at least some interesting quality.”

The school district1s expulsion of Boucher stemmed from its belief that his article had endangered school property. Boucher disagrees, arguing that “So You Want To Be A Hacker” was intended to show a lack of security in the school1s computer system.

As a result of the expulsion, Boucher filed a lawsuit arguing that the school board had trampled his First Amendment rights and the free speech provision in the Wisconsin constitution. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Boucher contended that “The article did not result — and was not likely to result — in materially or substantially disrupting the work of Greenfield High School or in impinging upon the rights of other students.”

A federal district court agreed and granted an injunction that temporarily prevented the school from expelling Boucher.

Yet in a January ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated the injunction and sided with Greenfield1s argument that Boucher’s article was a substantial threat to the school. “Boucher does not contend that the article was intended merely as some sort of parody of anarchist high school hackers …. Instead, spiced with warnings, emphasizing stealth, the article’s agenda is palpably transgressive,” Judge Richard D. Cudahy wrote in the opinion.

Boucher will not fight the expulsion. Instead, his attorney, Meesh Leiker, requested that the court order the school board to allow him to attend Greenfield or provide him with home schooling. The board opted to give Boucher home schooling to avoid court arugments, according to Leiker.

He has taken the school board up on its offer to provide him with home schooling. If he completes his courses, he will receive a Greenfield High School diploma.

As for the court’s decision, Boucher commented, “I didn’t think it was very fair after another judge already said I could stay in school. But it was their decision.” However, Boucher plans to move forward with the civil trial, which is scheduled for November 17, and he will be represented by the ACLU.

“The ACLU strongly feels Justin was expelled for one year not for his article on hacking, but because the school felt he was hacking. The activity in question was a First Amendment issue about a written article, not hacking itself,” Leiker stated.


reports, Spring 1998