A Washington teen-ager who was kicked out of high school for mocking an assistant principal on a web site he set up at home has accepted a $62,000 settlement.
Under the agreement approved Feb. 20 by Thurston County Superior Court Judge William Thomas McPhee, Karl Beidler stands to receive $10,000 and his lawyers $52,000 from the North Thurston School District.
School officials issued a prepared statement saying they felt the settlement was “the most prudent course of action.”
McPhee ruled in July that school officials violated Beidler’s free-speech rights when they expelled him from Timberline High School in Lacey on Jan. 29, 1999, because of his portrayal of Dave Lehnis, an assistant principal in charge of discipline.
In one depiction on the web site, Lehnis’ head was added to a Viagra ad. In another, his head was shown on the television cartoon character Marge Simpson having sex with Homer Simpson.
Beidler, a 17-year-old junior at the time, was initially given a half-year suspension, which was reduced to one month. He finished the year at an alternative school, returned to Timberline as a senior, and graduated last year.
He was represented in the case by a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union. “This case sends a message to public school administrators that they do not have the authority to punish students for expressing their opinions outside of school and without the use of school resources,” ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan said. “The First Amendment protects a student from being kicked out of school just because officials don’t like what the student is saying.”