Georgia teen claims school suspended him over Web page

Monday, February 15, 1999

A Georgia eighth-grader says he plans to fight an 18-week suspension handed down last week after school administrators discovered his Web site.

The Web site, “Natasha's Heckling Page,” which Matt Paul Foreman and a friend created on a home computer, lists 11 ways to disrupt class and identifies an administrator “we try to avoid the most.”

The teen's father, Matt Warren Foreman, says the school has violated his son's First Amendment rights.

However, Gwinnett County school officials last week said that Matt Paul Foreman was suspended from Five Forks Middle School for disciplinary reasons, not because of his Web page.

While Foreman, 14, admits that he already has been disciplined this school year for “acting out” in class, he says that the administrators really suspended him because of the Web site.

“They found my Web page and sent me to a disciplinary panel because of it,” Foreman said.

The disciplinary panel included three teachers and a school administrator who presided as judge.

“The Web page was at the forefront of the decision made at the panel, but now (the school) is backpedaling saying it was other discipline problems,” Mike Puglise, Foreman's attorney, said. He says that transcripts of the panel hearing will prove that the Web page was really at issue.

The attorney says another boy has been sent notice of suspension for helping create the Web page. Foreman's neighbor and friend is to receive nine days of suspension for supplying the Web page's template, Puglise says.

“If the Web page wasn't the problem, then why was this other child suspended?” Puglise asked.

“I was accepting punishment for causing trouble, but I don't accept any punishment for the Web page,” Foreman said of the discipline hearing.

School officials said in a statement last week that Foreman violated three rules in the disciplinary handbook: disrupting the school's mission; making written contact in a threatening or provoking nature to a school employee; and repeated violation of school rules.

“The school and school system are dealing with this situation as a disciplinary matter, not a First Amendment issue,” Berney Kirkland, spokeswoman for the school district, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Calls made to Kirkland were not returned.

Matt Paul's father said he consulted Puglise after the hearing on Feb. 9.

“The school said it was a disciplinary problem, but my son was already receiving discipline for his actions,” the elder Foreman said.

Puglise says his first action will be to appeal the panel decision to the school superintendent.

“We want to make sure to get Matt back in school,” Puglise said.

If the suspension is upheld Puglise plans to ask a Gwinnett County Superior Court judge for an injunction to block the 18-week suspension. He says he'll file for the motion after he receives the disciplinary panel transcripts, which he expects this week.

Puglise says he will to file a federal lawsuit — regardless of whether Foreman's suspension is revoked or not — alleging that the student's civil and constitutional rights were violated by the suspension.

“It is a First Amendment issue and the proper forum will be the federal court where the jury will consist of more than three teachers,” said Puglise.