Judge allows student suspended for Web site to finish schoolwork

Decision paves way for ninth grader to attend high school

ARKANSAS -- A federal judge ruled in late June in favor of a ninth-grade student who filed a lawsuit against his school district for suspending him for his Web site.

U.S. District Judge George Howard issued a temporary restraining order against Valley View School District, ordering school officials to allow ninth grade student Justin Redman a chance to finish his schoolwork and make up any tests missed during his suspension. Howard is expected to hear the case in late summer.

Valley View Junior High School officials suspended Redman for the last 10 days of classes in June for what school officials called "inappropriate" Internet use.

Redman had created a Web site from his home computer parodying Valley View's official site. Officials also revoked Redman's school computer privileges for 18 months and required him to receive psychological counseling before returning to school in the fall.

Redman's suspension caused him to miss exams, which led to him failing the ninth grade. The Web site, which was posted May 7 and taken down May 15, "contained content critical of some of the school's administrators, staff and four students, often vulgar and generally impolite," according to the lawsuit.

At a June 13 school board meeting, where Redman appealed the school's punishment, board members upheld Valley View's actions despite the warnings of an American Civil Liberties Union cooperating attorney who advised board members of court precedents siding against school-imposed censorship of independent student Web pages.

The ACLU of Arkansas filed a lawsuit on behalf of Redman, contending school officials violated his First Amendment rights.

The ACLU asked the court to allow Redman to make up, over the summer, the work he missed, return for the 10th grade in the fall and to have this incident taken off his record.

Rita Sklar, director of the Arkansas ACLU, said that because the judge had a full docket, he issued the temporary restraining order, instead of a preliminary injunction, to give himself more time to research the facts of the case.

"It does acknowledge the fact, just by its nature, he thinks there's merit to the [Redman's case,]" Sklar said. "So to preserve his interests and prevent irreparable harm, he wants him to be able to make up these tests and give the judge a little more time before he can hear the case later this summer."

Sklar said cases like this are very common and she is confident in their claims. But that does not mean students have free reign to do whatever they want to on the Internet, she said.

"Kids need to be educated, I don't want stifle their expression but I want them to know that while the school may not be able to punish you for what you put up on your web site it doesn't mean that you can't be found guilty of defamation," Sklar said. "I would love to get kids to realize that and realize the limits that we all have to face."

Redman's parents, Marty and Patricia Redman, said in a joint statement that they needed outside legal help because they believed the school overstepped its bounds.

"Although we as parents do not condone what Justin did, we also do not feel the school has the right to control or discipline him for what he does off school grounds-that job belongs to us," the Redmans said in the statement.

Fall 2000, reports