Students suspended for survey comments sue school

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Five Massachusetts high school students have filed a lawsuit against their school after they were suspended early this year over comments they made on a confidential survey about race relations.

The complaint was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Worcester against the Montachusett Regional Technical Vocational School District in Fitchburg and three of its administrators. It alleges the students were suspended without due process and had their rights to privacy and free speech violated, according to the Sentinel and Enterprise of Fitchburg.

“The real crux of everything here is that the students were told their answers were confidential, and that it was completely voluntary to respond,” attorney Beverly Chorbajian told the Associated Press.

According to the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of those suspended, the students were asked in late January to respond to a survey about race relations at the school in Fitchburg, 40 miles west of Boston. They were told to answer all the questions and then turn the survey in without putting their names on the forms.

School officials allegedly learned the students’ identities from their answers, removed them from class and interrogated them, the AP reported.

The lawsuit said they were then suspended for three days in January for what the school called “behavior causing a dangerous condition” and making “racist comments.”

The ACLU said the students’ answers included remarks that minority students were receiving preferential treatment from teachers, and that minorities were responsible for some recent fights, according to the AP.

The suit asks that the suspensions be expunged from the students’ records and that one student who left the school be reimbursed $25,000 in tuition.

School Superintendent Stratos Dukakis referred calls to the school’s attorney, the AP reported. A message left at his offices after business hours on Aug. 17 was not immediately returned.

“I think this is a terrible lesson,” Ronald C. Madnick, executive director of the Worcester County ACLU chapter and a former teacher who taught for more than 30 years, told the Sentinel and Enterprise. “Who can you trust if you can’t trust your teachers and administrators?”

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