Student suspended for column wins 8-year fight

ILLINOIS -- An eight-year-long legal battle finally came to a close in November when the Chicago Board of Education agreed to pay $40,000 to a former student who was suspended for criticizing her school's "no shorts" policy in the student newspaper.

Cynthia Hanifin was a 17-year-old student at Hubbard High School in Chicago when she was suspended in 1993 for four days for the column. When she tried to attend a graduation awards ceremony at the school during her suspension, principal Charles Vietzen had her arrested for trespassing. Hanifin was later acquitted of the trespassing charges and in July 1993 filed a $2 million lawsuit against Vietzen.

At the time, Vietzen said he suspended Hanifin because she did not have prior approval from school officials before publishing the article. Hanifin, however, said she was suspended because Vietzen did not like the content of her article.

Tim Touhy, Hanifin's attorney, said he is satisfied with the settlement.

"The defendants denied any responsibility with the settlement agreement," Touhy said. "But I think the fact that they agreed to pay indicates that they recognize that there was some impropriety on their part as far as disciplining Cynthia."

In spite of the duration of the case, Touhy said it was worth it.

"We never did it for the money," Touhy said. "We did it to vindicate the First Amendment."

reports, Spring 2001