Arkansas’ Valley View School District has settled a lawsuit involving a student’s internet site so it could begin the school year without the distractions of a court hearing, a school district attorney said Aug. 18.
Dan Bufford said the court case was causing too much disruption.
“We were looking at sending six to eight teachers, seven to eight students, and three sets of parents from Jonesboro to Little Rock to testify,” Bufford said. “The distractions and the expense of that was just too much.”
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district, contending the district wrongly suspended Justin Redman for 10 days. He was suspended for producing a web site that mirrored the school’s official web site, but included sexually explicit photos and text, some of which named other students and administrators.
John Burnett, the ACLU’s state legal director, said the settlement doesn’t mean the organization agrees with the district’s actions.
“Every school board and every school board attorney in the state is going to know about this case,” he said. “The schools are going to have to come to realization that, just as they cannot visit discipline on students for something they said at a weekend party, they cannot do it because of something a student said on the world wide web.”
Following two days of testimony from Redman’s parents, students, and school officials, the two groups reached an undisclosed settlement agreement in a closed meeting with U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. Aug. 17.
Redman has not attended school-mandated sexual harassment counseling, but he was allowed to come to school on Aug. 21.
Bufford said that doesn’t mean Redman won’t eventually have to attend the counseling. “We cannot say whether or not that will happen,” he said, citing the confidentiality agreement.
Burnett said the hearing sent an important message about the regulation of internet speech. “School administrators are bent out of shape that kids can enjoy free speech and know more about free speech than they have ever had before,” he said. “There is a lot of danger and responsibility there, but that doesn’t mean it’s something the schools get to control.”