Administrators suspend student for e-mail


Case raises issue of whether public schools can control students' off-campus speech





\nPENNSYLVANIA - The number one reason school administrators\nsuspended student Zachariah Paul? The top 10 list he e-mailed\nto his friends belittling the athletic director.

Paul, a junior at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville,\nsaid he sent the e-mail listing the top ten reasons why athletic\ndirector Bob Bozzuto is "always so pissed off" to 23\nfriends. A copy of the e-mail was found in the teacher's lounge\nand traced to Paul, but Paul said he did not bring it to school.

Paul received a 10-day, out-of-school suspension, five Saturday\nmorning detentions and a 20-hour, in-school suspension.

Paul sued the school to have the suspension lifted, arguing\nthat the school district violated his right to free speech. The\ncase raises the question of whether a public school can punish\na student for private correspondence.

Paul reached a settlement with administrators, however, after\nserving eight days of the suspension. The deal required Paul to\nstop distributing publications critical of school officials among\nstudents.

Earlier in the year, Paul sent his friends an e-mail describing\nthe librarian at his school as a "book nazi" and suggesting\nthat students ask her for books on how to make bombs. Paul said\nhe received a warning about the e-mail from school administrators\nand agreed not to distribute any more publications critical of\nschool employees at school.

But Paul said school administrators cannot control what he\nsays outside of school.

"What I say in my own home is my business," he said.

Paul said he settled with administrators because he needed\nto go back to school to prepare for upcoming Advanced Placement\nexams and finals. He said he was also planning to participate\nin a track championship but was not allowed to after he returned\nto school.

"At the time, I really needed to get back to school,"\nPaul said. "[The settlement] was a quick fix for the time\nbeing until school was over."

Paul is still suing the school district for violating his First\nAmendment free speech rights. The American Civil Liberties Union\nhas taken his case.

Vic Walczak, the executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh\nACLU and the attorney handling the case, said the ACLU is involved\nin the case because it concerns a matter of student free speech.

"It raises the important issue of whether there are limits\non a school's ability to discipline students for out-of-school\nspeech," he said.

The superintendent of the Franklin Regional School District\ndeclined to comment on the case.

Paul's mother, JoAnne Killion, said she supports her son's\nright to express himself.

"I have been encouraging him to speak his mind since he\nwas a child," she said. "I strongly believe that we\nas American citizens should have our First Amendment rights."\n


Fall 1999, reports