Ore. court of appeals upholds student's expulsion for underground publication

Judges compare distribution to yelling 'fire' in a crowded movie theater

OREGON -- The attorney for a student editor expelled for publishing an underground newspaper is taking the case as high as it will go in the state court system, hoping to have the student's punishment overturned and his disciplinary record wiped clean.

Jonathan Hoffman, attorney for Chris Pangle, filed a petition for review with the Oregon Supreme Court Nov. 3 claiming school officials violated Pangle's right to free speech when they expelled him for distributing constitutionally protected speech.

The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Bend-La Pine School District in August. Pangle v. Bend-La Pine School Dist., 10 P.3d 275 (Or. Ct. App. 2000).

Pangle was a junior at Mountain View High School in 1997 when he was expelled for distributing copies of OUTSIDE! to his fellow students. The unauthorized publication, written off campus and circulated outside of class, included a how-to article that discussed methods of exploding a toilet and taking over the school's intercom system. It also included a list of teachers' names, addresses and telephone numbers.

In his petition, Hoffman said the Oregon Constitution, which bars the passage of laws "restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatever," provides Pangle with protection.

"[The district's] imposed punishment against Pangle, including expulsion, probation and [placement of] adverse information in his student file, [was] based solely upon Pangleís writing and distribution of a non-school-sponsored publication," Hoffman said in his petition.

The distribution of OUTSIDE! did not lead directly to any campus disruption, but the appellate court said Pangle "advocated specific methods for causing personal injury, property damage and the disruption of school activities." As a result, school officials could reasonably predict substantial interference with the academic operation of the school and the rights of its students, the court said.

"The exercise of appropriate discipline to deter disruptive forces within the school environment is consistent with First Amendment rights as are constitutional limitations on free speech in other environments, such as constraints on yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded movie theater," Judge Walt Edmonds said in the decision.

But dissenting Judge Rex Armstrong said, "There is no evidence that Chris or anyone else engaged in, or planned or prepared to engage in, any of the suggested conduct the majority quotes."

Hoffman endorsed Armstrong's dissent.

"I think [his] dissent was right on the money in that he identified what the constitutionally permissible bases are, and the record is devoid of anything showing that was the reason that they expelled him, so that ought to be the end of it right there," Hoffman said.

Pangle expressed optimism as the case climbs to the state's highest court, and he said he still has "no regrets" about OUTSIDE!.

"I donít like the idea that one has to defend their speech -- no matter what it is," he said.

Under rules of the Oregon Supreme Court, school district attorneys were required to file their reply to Hoffman's petition by Dec. 3, but Hoffman said the district decided not to file a reply at all. Hoffman said he does not expect to hear a response from the court until 2001.

"There are a series of things [in this case] that make the likelihood of getting a review much higher than it would be in the typical case, but obviously any time you have discretionary review, you cannot assume [anything]," Hoffman said.

The appellate court's decision is available on the Oregon Judicial Department's Web site at:

reports, Winter 2000-01