Judge backs students suspended over web pages

Web pages that drew a Greenwood, Ark., parent’s protest because of the way they depicted athletes and band members shouldn’t be a black mark on the records of two honor students who were suspended for creating the pages, a federal judge said.

The judge ordered that no record of the suspensions linger in the students’ records–and he ordered administrators never to mention that the pair had once been wrongly suspended.

Laura Neal, on behalf of her son Justin Neal, and Ryan Kuhl filed a lawsuit in late August against the Greenwood school district, principal Jerry Efurd, and assistant principal Jim Garvey. U.S. District Judge Jimm Hendren ruled Feb. 18 that the district violated the students’ First Amendment rights and that their internet postings did not disrupt class.

The district had said the postings by the students were inappropriate.

Kuhl, 18, and Neal, 17, are Greenwood High School honor students. They drew three-day suspensions last August after a parent complained about the way athletes and band members were portrayed on the sites. Also at issue were language and “hateful comments” on the sites, according to court records.

Three postings by visitors to the web sites were viewed as threatening to school administrators. However, neither Neal nor Kuhl was responsible for the postings, court records said.

In his ruling, Hendren held Efurd and the district responsible for the action against the students, but said Garvey did not violate the students’ First Amendment rights. Hendren said the students did not substantially disrupt the educational environment at Greenwood.

After a hearing in September, Magistrate Judge Beverly Stites Jones had ruled in favor of the school district. The matter was appealed to Hendren.

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