DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced that a settlement agreement has been reached between the South Lyon Community Schools and the students who were suspended for distributing a newspaper entitled The First Amendment.
“The students engaged in classic speech that is protected by the First Amendment. We are very pleased that this has been resolved and that the school now understands that students’ have some free speech rights that cannot be suppressed,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.
According to Andrew Nicklehoff, the ACLU cooperating attorney who worked on the case, the settlement is not perfect, but “a near total victory.” “We negotiated at length with the district to come up with a policy that is light years better from what was there before," Nicklehoff said.
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.
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.”
Under the agreement, the student suspensions will be rescinded and expunged from the student’s records. In addition, the School’s regulations will be revised so that students may distribute approved materials during lunch from a pre-determined area in the commons area. The term “offensive” used in the school policy’s “Content-Based Restrictions” will also be revised to “grossly offensive to a reasonable person.”
“The policy allows administrators to do their jobs,” added Nickelhoff. "But it puts in place restrictions and controls so that the school administrators don’t violate students' free speech rights."