Mo. student files free speech lawsuit

Friday, December 14, 2007

EUREKA, Mo. (AP) -- A high school sophomore and his father filed a federal lawsuit against suburban St. Louis school officials after the student was disciplined for taking photos of his teacher and posting them online.

The case highlights the emerging dilemma that the Internet poses for schools, with questions about how, or if, their disciplinary practices extend beyond schoolhouse walls.

The suit alleges that officials at Lafayette High School violated Logan Glover's constitutional rights to free speech and free expression. However, school district officials said the case is about controlling classroom behavior, not about the student's right to communicate online.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. It also names the boy's father, Jerome Glover, as a plaintiff. The defendants named in the suit are Lafayette Principal John Shaughnessy and two associate principals, Kirti Mehrotra and Jodi Davidson.

According to an affidavit by Shaughnessy, Glover and two classmates disrupted a language arts class on Nov. 20 when they surreptitiously took the pictures last month of teacher Jessica Hauser.

The photos show the teacher working at her desk with students nearby. She is handling paperwork as she speaks with two boys. In one picture, a boy gives a thumbs-up to the camera while the teacher is looking away.

After school that day at his home, Glover posted the pictures on his private Facebook page on the social networking site. He did not post captions with the photographs, or identify anyone in them, the lawsuit said.

The suit claims Glover removed the photos on Dec. 6, when school officials confronted him about them. Glover got a three-day, out-of-school suspension and was permanently removed from Hauser's classroom. The other boys involved each got three days of in-school suspension. They are not parties to the suit.

"The taking of photographs and posting them on the Internet is not necessarily wrong," said Rockwood Superintendent Craig Larson. "It's the disruption that this caused that prompted us to act."

He said he thought there were two disruptions, sending students to the teacher's desk and taking pictures without her knowledge, and a later disruption when students started talking about the matter and showing the teacher the pictures.

Mark Sableman, a First Amendment attorney with the Thompson Coburn firm, filed the suit on the Glovers' behalf. He said the photographs were taken during a free-time period and did not disrupt instruction.

"The Glovers believe that the school district took action against Logan because it did not like having the photos posted on Facebook," Sableman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Thursday in an e-mail. "The First Amendment and prior cases are clear that school officials do not have the right to discipline students for content they post on the Internet outside of school."

Larson said the incident upset the teacher. "She didn't know the intent of the pictures," Larson said. "She wondered, 'Why did you do this? What are you trying to do to me by posting these images?"'

Hauser's class included a teacher from the Special School District who worked with Glover. According to the suit, the school does not have a substitute class that meets Glover's special needs.

Larson said the district would find a suitable class for the student.

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Information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, www.stltoday.com

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