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Student, school district settle lawsuit over war posters

By The Associated Press

11.30.01

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CLEVELAND — A high school boy's lawsuit against the suburban school district that suspended him for displaying anti-Taliban posters has been settled for $24,000, mostly legal fees.

Fairview High School student Aaron Petitt, 16, displayed self-made posters showing planes bombing Afghanistan. He received a 10-day suspension.

Avery Friedman, Petitt's attorney, filed a federal lawsuit against the Fairview Park school district. In it, Petitt said school administrators violated the boy's rights of free speech and due process by suspending him Oct. 8.

When Petitt filed the lawsuit, a federal judge sent him back to school Oct. 10, and the district superintendent lifted the suspension. The settlement was made final last night.

Superintendent Nylajean McDaniel did not say why she reversed the suspension, noting only that she considered all the evidence and that the judge's action did not influence her decision.

Along with the suspension reversal, McDaniel said she asked that the boy's posters not be displayed "in deference to the Arab-American students."

Petitt is free to display his posters, Friedman said.

The posters showed bombers dropping their payloads with messages including "Good morning, Afghan!" and "May God have mercy, because we will not."

Petitt said he believes that no Arab-American students were offended. "The only people offended were the principal and the superintendent," he said.

His sister, who lives in New York, was injured by flying glass and debris from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

In the settlement, the Fairview Park district did not admit to any violation of the student's rights. The district agreed to pay $21,000 in legal fees, $1,000 for the boy's parents' claim of lost wages, and $2,000 for compensation to the boy.

Friedman said Petitt would donate some of his $2,000 to relief efforts in New York.

In the settlement, the school district said the purpose of the suspension was to avoid any school disruption and to make sure one student's right of expression did nor impinge upon the rights of others. The school district expressed "regret that this incident occurred."

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The aftermath: School lessons in free expression send mixed messages
Teacher faces job loss for burning flag in class; student wins court suit after suspension for protest slogans on locker; law firm offers defense for 'God Bless America' postings; education secretary asks nation's classrooms to recite special Pledge of Allegiance.  10.10.01

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