Student sues school after being suspended for comment about Columbine on Internet discussion board

MISSOURI - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of a high school student who was suspended for a comment he made about school violence on an Internet discussion board.

Dustin Mitchell, a junior at Rolla High School, was suspended for 10 days last spring and required to perform 42 hours of community service for a comment he made on a teens-only Internet discussion board five days after the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in which two students killed 12 classmates, one teacher and themselves. In response to the question, "Do you think such a tragedy could happen at your school?" Mitchell said "Yes!"

Bryan Scheiderer, Mitchell's attorney, said officials at Rolla High School told Mitchell he was being suspended because of the comment he made on the discussion board and because Mitchell used the name of another student at the school as an alias when he posted his one-word reply.

The school eventually reduced Mitchell's suspension to four days. Mitchell said he only completed about 12 hours of the community service requirement.

"I started [doing the community service], but the more I thought about it, it wasn't right," he said. "I was just speaking my mind."

Mitchell, who is now living in Washington state with friends, is suing the Rolla school district to have the suspension erased from his disciplinary record.

"The school overstepped their bounds," Mitchell said. "It's a matter of how much authority does the school have to punish its students when they're not on school time or underneath the school's jurisdiction. It wasn't a felony. It wasn't a misdemeanor. All I did was say 'yes.'"  

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