ACLU Sues South Lyon Community Schools for Suspending Student Authors

June 06, 2002

DETROIT — Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit in federal court against the South Lyon Community Schools for suspending two students who wrote a newspaper entitled The First Amendment. The school suspended the students for five days.

"The students engaged in classic speech that is protected by the First Amendment.  It is ironic that the school would see fit to suppress a publication entitled The First Amendment,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. 

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 junior at the school said: “We are filing 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.”  They were also suspended for attempting to distribute materials before obtaining prior approval from the principal even though this rule was not published in the student handbook and the students had no notice of such a rule.  Finally, the students were 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.” 

The lawsuit 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.

The students seek a court order declaring that the regulations used to punish them are unconstitutional, a court order permitting the students to distribute The First Amendment on campus next school year, and a court order directing the schools to expunge the student records of the suspension. 

A link to the newspaper that students were suspended for attempting to distribute.

Related Issues: