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Miss. school suspends student for calling teacher 'perverted' in online journal
Student alleges school punished her after teacher threatened to sue
January 29, 2004

MISSISSIPPI -- A high school student says school administrators punished her because she wrote in her off-campus weblog that a teacher was "perverted."St. Martin High School junior Addi Battista said this week that she served three days of in-school isolation this month after administrators at the public school in Ocean Springs discovered her off-campus weblog, an online journal. In the weblog, Battista vented about the teacher's mispronunciation of her last name, mocked his clothing and rejoiced that she would no longer be in his class. The entry in question was written and published online before the winter break.The school administration learned about the weblog when another student printed the entry at school and brought it to the administration's attention before the winter break, said Nathan Potts, a St. Martin High School senior and friend of Battista.After school administrators confronted her about the weblog, Battista removed the entry. "It was not fair," Battista said. "I didn't mean for [the teacher] to see [the weblog]. I kept apologizing. I even took it off. I thought it was the end of it."After the winter break, administrators suspended Battista for "making defamatory remarks" about the teacher. They also suspended the student who reported the weblog for two days and barred him from using the school's computers, Potts said. Assistant Principal Dina Holland said school policy permits the school to punish students when they bring something on campus that causes a problem. Battista blamed the suspension on the teacher, who she said threatened legal action if the school did not discipline her. "Holland said she was scared for me because [the teacher] was going to take me to court, so they sent me to three-day ISI," Battista said. "It's really dumb. I found out they [couldn't legally suspend me]. I was so mad."Potts said he did not understand why Battista had to apologize for her off-campus activities."I don't think she should have had to apologize for anything other than having an opinion that was too harsh for him," Potts said. "I don't see why she shouldn't be able to say she's glad to be getting out of his class because he's perverted in her own time in her own live journal on her own computer." School officials said they did nothing wrong. "We don't discipline students for nothing," said Loretta Goff, assistant superintendent for St. Martin Attendance Center. "Anytime a student is disciplined, it is because their actions have been a breech of school policy. It would have nothing to do with their First Amendment rights or any constitutional freedoms." Before her suspension, Battista and her parents considered taking legal action against the school, but after the suspension, they decided it was too late to do anything. Battista has since made her weblog private and will transfer to another public school for her senior year. The offended teacher said he did not want to comment on the situation.

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© 2004 Student Press Law Center

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