Oregon teen expelled over off-color Web site sues school district
By The Associated Press
BEAVERTON, Ore. A teenager who created a Web site that contained obscenity-laden pokes at Canadians, lesbians, classmates and teachers has filed a federal lawsuit against the Beaverton School District, which expelled him after discovering the site.
Carlson Muss, now 15, had created the site on his home computer two years ago.
His lawsuit, which seeks $101,800 in damages, is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The suit alleges that the school district violated Muss’ First Amendment rights by punishing him for creating the Web site, then a year later unfairly denied him admission to the district’s Arts & Communication Magnet Academy.
Muss’ lawyer, Brian Posewitz, said school officials overreacted.
“Our view is that because this was completely separate from what he was doing at school that he had the same constitutional rights as anyone else,” Posewitz said. “I don’t think the record is going to show that anyone felt threatened or in any danger of physical harm.”
Citing student confidentiality and pending litigation, the district’s spokeswoman, Maureen Wheeler, declined to comment.
Legal experts say such cases illustrate the tension between free speech and school safety.
“Students, like anyone else, have a right to say things that are inappropriate or vulgar,” said Charles F. Hinkle, a Portland lawyer who also represents The Oregonian on First Amendment issues. “That is as true for a sixth-grader as a 50-year-old or a 25-year-old.”
But lawyers who represent school districts disagree.
“After the incredible acts of violence that have been happening in schools, school districts are becoming more sensitive to warnings and threats of violence before they occur,” said Peter Mersereau, a Portland lawyer specializing in school litigation.
Muss’ Web site included off-color jokes and pleas for dates and listed eight students who were guaranteed to “live another week.”
“He intended that to be taken lightly or satirically,” said Posewitz. “He doesn’t have an interest in violent movies or own any guns. He’s not some sort of disconnected, lonely student.”
Posewitz said Muss wants $100,000 for his pain, suffering and embarrassment. Muss continues to attend a $3,500-a-year private school; the family is asking for $1,800 in tuition reimbursement.
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