The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed suit in United States District Court in Cleveland earlier today, challenging on First Amendment grounds the suspension and expulsion of an eighth grade student at North Canton Middle School. Jonathon Coy, 15, together with several friends created an off campus web site dedicated to skateboarding and humor. In April 2001, North Canton school officials suspended him for five days, and placed him on in school expulsion until November.
The web site, which Coy created on his home computer on his own time, featured him and friends in humorous pictures, and focused on skateboarding, videography and juvenile humor. Nothing on the site was obscene, and teachers, administrators and the North Canton Schools generally were not even mentioned. Despite this, school officials charged Coy with bullying. Local police were also sent to the Coy household to review the tape with Jonathon’s parents, but could find nothing wrong with it.
“This is yet another sad example of school officials reacting hysterically to innocent student expression,” said Raymond Vasvari, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation, which is representing the Coy family in federal court. “What students say and do on their own time is between them and their parents, and is no business of over-zealous administrators.”
The Supreme Court has held that schools may limit student speech in connection with school activities and events, but has never allowed administrators to censor student speech off campus. “Schools have got to stop playing fast and loose with the constitutional rights of their students,” said Jillian Davis, ACLU Staff Counsel, who also represents Coy. “Jonathan Coy is the latest victim of the zero-tolerance mindset of our schools. He did nothing wrong, but has suffered academically and emotionally as a result of his punishment. This has to stop."
The ACLU is asking the federal court to declare the school’s action unconstitutional, to end Jonathan’s expulsion and erase it from his record. The suit also seeks money damages.