(CN) – A young man who was rumored to have made a bigoted remark about Latinos will not get a Supreme Court review of his case against the school that suspended him and blocked him from refuting the allegations before the student body.
A few days after a Latino student at East Hampton High School was killed in an April 2004 motorcycle accident, gossip spread that sophomore Daniel DeFabio made a disparaging remark about the student’s ethnic group by telling a friend, “One down, forty thousand to go.”
Outraged students threatened to kill DeFabio or bomb his house, requiring police to escort him from the school as students yelled at him in Spanish. The principal recommended that DeFabio stay home for a few days until tensions calmed for his own protection.
Police patrolled the DeFabio’s house for the rest of the week as the family continued to receive threatening phone calls.
DeFabio claims he was overheard, and misunderstood, as he told a friend about overhearing someone else make the “terrible” comment. He wanted to declare his innocence in a letter to be read by him at a school assembly or by the school over the public announcement system, but the school’s principal refused. Administrators felt DeFabio’s presence or words could further aggravate tensions.
Four days after the alleged comment, Superintendent Raymond Gualteri held an informal hearing and determined that DeFabio had, in fact, made the racial remark. He suspended DeFabio for the rest of the school year.
Gualteri’s decision was later overturned by the New York Commissioner of Education, and the incident was expunged from Daniel’s record.
That summer, threats and harassment against DeFabio continued.
DeFabio and his mother, Patricia, sued the East Hampton Union Free School District and various officials in 2007 over their refusal to let DeFabio return to school to clear his name.
Other students allegedly viewed Daniel’s absence and silence after the incident as an indicator of guilt.
A Long Island federal judge dismissed the DeFabios’ First Amendment claims, and the Manhattan-based 2nd Circuit affirmed in October 2010.
Assuming Daniel had a free-speech right to return to school and declare his innocence, the court wrote, it was “objectively reasonable” for school officials to bar his return “in light of repeated and serious threats to Daniel’s physical safety.”
“There is no question that Daniel’s mere presence in school, with or without his speech, would likely result in violence or the threat of violence” and would thus substantially disrupt school, the court concluded.
The DeFabios sought relief from the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices declined to review the case without comment on Monday.