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Honor Students Punished for Their Website

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) - Twin-brother honor students claim in Federal Court that their public school "callously" suspended them for 180 days for setting up and running a nonviolent website on their own time and on their own computers.

Public school districts have been sued repeatedly for punishing students for nonviolent statements they make on their Facebook pages, sometimes for criticizing or lampooning teachers. Employers too have been sued on similar allegations.

In the most recent case, Brian and Linda Wilson, the parents of the twin honor roll students, say Lee's Summit School District's harsh discipline violates their sons' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Wilsons ask a federal judge to reinstate their 17-year-old sons and wipe out any reference to the suspension from their records.

At issue is a blog one of the boys created called, a satirical site about high school life. The boys say they set up the blog on their personal computer on their own time, and used a Dutch domain name so it would be difficult for peers to see it unless they told them about it.

"Late in the evening on December 16th, 2011 a third student, not a plaintiff in this action, posted a comment which employed a racial epithet as a title of the post," the complaint states.

"This particular post was viewable from approximately 12:00 a.m. the morning of December 16, 2011 until approximately 11:30 a.m. on December 16, 2011.

"The plaintiffs were not aware of this post at the time of its posting.

"A third student, not a plaintiff to this action, removed the content on the site during the school day of December 16, 2011.

"The plaintiffs learned of this post which used the racial epithet for a title while at school on December 16, 2011.

"On Friday December 16, 2011, LSNHS [Lee's Summit North High School] administration became aware of the website and restricted access to it from all school computers."

The twins were suspended for 180 days. They say defendant Lee's Summit Superintendent David McGehee told them they were suspended because they were "involved with" North Press.

An appeals hearing on the suspension was held on Feb. 8.

"At the appeals hearing, the district levied new charges against the plaintiffs for misuse of school computer equipment, charges not brought against the plaintiffs during their initial suspension hearing," the complaint states.

"Plaintiffs were subsequently convicted of the new charges at the appellate hearing."

The twins say they were told that whiles suspended they could attend Summit Ridge Academy, an alternative school for at-risk students. But the twins, honor students, say the alternative school does not meet their academic needs and doesn't have any extracurricular activities, such as a band.

One twin is a drum major and the other was slated to be Drum Line Captain in the Lee's Summit North High School band next year, positions put in jeopardy by the suspension.

"Unless the plaintiffs are immediately readmitted to LSNHS, they will lose eligibility to participate in leadership roles in school band," the complaint states.

"These consequences that will negatively impact the plaintiffs' ability to attend college.

"Moreover, if the suspension is not expunged from the plaintiffs' records, their opportunities to obtain competitive scholarships and college admission will also be severely jeopardized.

"Further, if the actions taken against the plaintiffs by the Lee's Summit R-7 School

District, superintendent and school board are allowed to stand, the result would be an impermissible chilling effect on speech."

The plaintiffs are represented by Aaron Schwartz, with Wallace, Saunders, Austin, Brown and Enochs, of Kansas City, Mo.

Lee's Summit R-7 School District, McGehee and five school board members are listed as defendants.

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