ACLU Files Motion in Case of Students’ Right to Publish Underground Newspaper

October 02, 2002

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a motion today asking a federal judge to order the South Lyon Community Schools to permit the distribution of a student newspaper entitled The First Amendment. The motion also asks the judge to order the school to expunge the records of three students who were suspended last spring for trying to distribute the paper.

The lawsuit on which this motion is based was filed in June, 2002.  It charges the school district with violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The suit also challenges the constitutionality of the school regulations controlling the distributions of materials at school as an “unlawful prior restraint” on free expression, as overly broad and vague, and for punishing speech based on its content.

“This kind of speech is protected by the First Amendment and the school’s actions are clearly unconstitutional,” said Andrew Nicklehoff, the ACLU Cooperating Attorney who is handling the case.  “These students are about to apply to college and should not have to have a suspension on their record.”

The newspaper contained numerous short articles on a wide variety of topics, including an article criticizing adults for telling jokes about Arabs and Muslims, an article critical of teachers for keeping religion out of the school, an article critical of the football coach, and an article critical of the principal for threatening seniors with criminal charges for carrying out senior pranks. 

Dan Woodcock, father of Joshua Woodcock, a senior at the school said “We filed this lawsuit because our children’s free speech rights are being stolen by an administration that is intolerant of any criticism.  As educators, they are missing the important principle that students learn through the exchange of ideas.”  

Although the students never actually distributed the paper, they were charged with “interfering with the operation of a school building.”  The students were also charged with violating a catchall provision of the Student Code of Conduct stating that corrective measures will be taken “should any student act in such a matter that is detrimental to himself.”

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