Arkansas teen accused of ‘terroristic’ threats challenges expulsion

Thursday, October 5, 2000

Calling it “the educational equivalent of the death penalty,” an
attorney representing an Arkansas teen-ager has filed a federal lawsuit against
a school district for the boy’s yearlong expulsion for writing an offensive
letter never meant for distribution.

Last week, U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. granted a temporary
restraining order prohibiting the Pulaski County School District from enforcing
the expulsion of the Northwood Junior High School student accused of making
“terroristic” threats. A hearing on whether to make the temporary injunction
permanent has not been set.

Originating as a rap song, the letter about the 14-year-old’s recent
breakup with a teen-age girl, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Morgan
“Chip” Welch, remained at the unnamed boy’s home and was not intended to be
distributed or viewed publicly. However, Welch, who is working with the state
chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that during a visit to the
boy’s home, a friend took the letter — unbeknownst to its author
—and later brought it to school were it was viewed by the girl, who then
reported it to a school official.

According to the Arkansas
, the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office determined
that a crime had not been committed. Nevertheless, on Aug. 23, school officials
expelled the boy from his regular school for a full school year for making
“terroristic” threats, ordering him to complete the year in the district’s
alternative school.

However, when the boy’s parents appealed the decision at the school
board’s Sept.12 meeting, their son received an even worse punishment: expulsion
from all district schools for a year.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the state ACLU chapter told
the Democrat-Gazette, “The issue for
us is that they’re punishing him for something done off campus. … I find it
shocking that even if they’re not lawyers, some instinct didn’t tell them you
have the right to write something in the privacy of your own home.”

Welch agreed, telling The Freedom Forum: “Here we have private speech
in a private bedroom purloined by a third party. This was never intended to be
viewed by anyone, especially not the school.”

Conceding that the letter was blatantly offensive and contained
references to violence, misogyny and suicide, Welch said that the letter was
never meant for distribution and written only for private use, making the
student free from the sanctions of the school.

“I appreciate the dilemma schools and people are in, but on this they
overreacted,” he said. “A diary entry grounds for expulsion?
Tinker said
that the schoolmaster’s arm doesn’t reach beyond the schoolhouse door, and
certainly not into the kid’s bedroom.”

Calls made to Sam Jones, the school board attorney, were not

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