Ohio Student Criticizes Band Teacher
An Ohio high school was suspended after criticizing his band teacher on his home web site. He ultimately settled with the school district for $30,000.
Sean O'Brien, a 17-year old student in suburban Cleveland, Ohio created a personal web site on America Online at www.raymondsucks.com, posting on it a photo of his band teacher Raymond Walczuk, along with the teacher's address and home telephone number, and describing him as "an overweight middle aged man who doesnít like to get haircuts." He also commented that the band teacher likes to "involve himself in everything you do and often thinks that problems are caused by a certain student or groups of students and no one else."
When the band teacher asked the school district to take action against the student, Westlake School District suspended O'Brien for eight days for "being disrespectful to a teacher", threatened to expel him, and ordered him to remove the web site. O'Brien sued, claiming that his First Amendment rights had been violated. In an unpublished opinion, a Federal District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio ruled in April 1998 that the Westlake School District had violated Mr. O'Brienís civil rights and ordered the school district to reinstate the boy.
A settlement was ultimately reached in which the student, Sean O'Brien, agreed to drop a lawsuit against the school board for violating his First Amendment rights and the school district agreed to pay him $30,000 in return.
School district lawyer John Britton told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the district agreed to the settlement to avoid spending large amounts of time and money in court arguing over how much Sean should receive in damages. He also said the district acknowledged that administrators had made a mistake disciplining Sean because the web page was created at home, not at school.