Editor says officials punished him for publication

NEW YORK -- A Buffalo high school student suspended for five days in March is claiming that administrators violated his First Amendment rights by punishing him for an independent newspaper he distributed at school.

But Clarence Central School District superintendent Thomas Coseo said Steven Harnisch was punished for his defiant attitude toward school rules and personnel, not his paper.

"He was suspended for disorderly conduct," Coseo said. "He refused to comply with a directive from a teacher."

Harnisch, who has distributed his independent publication, Harn!, at school for four years, said administrators never liked his newspaper and often confiscated copies from students after he distributed it. He said school officials are accusing him of being insubordinate as an excuse to punish him for his paper.

"They don't like my paper," said Harnisch, a senior at Clarence High School. "It's been going on for four years now, and they had to find a reason to get me out of there."

Harnisch said he was using computers in the school's learning assistance center before school started when the center's monitor asked him to leave. Harnisch said he suspected he was being asked to leave because of an article published in the March issue of Harn! about two unnamed students who had sex in the center. He told the monitor that if he was being asked to leave because of the article, then he was not leaving.

Coseo said he did not know why Harnisch was asked to leave the center.

The assistant principal escorted Harnisch to the principal's office. According to Harnisch, administrators told him they were suspending him for insubordination, promoting senior pranks in his newsletter and being disrespectful.

At a disciplinary hearing in April, Harnisch said administrators recommended that he be home-schooled for the remainder of the school year. The school district did not adopt that recommendation, however, and Harnisch has returned to school.

reports, Spring 2000