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Twin Teenage Bloggers Lose Suspension Relief

ST. LOUIS (CN) - Twin brothers who were suspended over a blog that criticized their school district are not entitled to an injunction, the 8th Circuit ruled.

The Lee's Summit R-7 School District became aware of the blog, a satirical site about high school life, after a student posted a racial slur on it.

Steven and Sean Wilson, twin honor-roll students at Lee's Summit North High School, say they created the website on their personal computer on their own time, and used a Dutch domain name to minimize public knowledge of the blog.

They say they did not know that one of their classmates posted the slur, and that this individual deleted the comment within 12 hours of posting it on Dec. 16, 2011.

Lee's Summit nevertheless suspended the Wilsons for 180 days on Jan. 11, 2012, over the disruption that their website caused and also claimed that the Wilsons had misused district computers.

The Wilsons filed a lawsuit in March, claiming the suspension violated their free-speech rights, and they requested a preliminary injunction lifting their suspensions.

A federal judge granted the Wilson's injunction request on March 23.

Though the 8th Circuit declined to stay the injunction pending the appeal, it sided with the school district Tuesday after a hearing on the merits.

The three-judge panel found that the Wilsons are unlikely to succeed on the case's merits, and that they did not establish significant irreparable harm to justify the injunction.

"In finding irreparable harm, the District Court relied in part on the Wilsons' argument that the academic work at Summit Ridge Academy was insufficiently challenging," Judge Michael Melloy wrote for the panel. "But Summit Ridge Academy is an accredited school in the same district as Lee's Summit North. While attending Summit Ridge Academy, the Wilsons earned academic credit and stayed on track for graduation in May 2013. Moreover, although the Wilsons claim they were harmed because Summit Ridge Academy did not offer honors courses, the preliminary injunction was issued too late in the semester for them to receive credit at Lee's Summit North - the injunction could not prevent any potential harm resulting from the Wilsons' loss of honors credit."

The Wilsons also argued that Summit Ridge did not offer a band program, noting that ending their participation in the Lee's Summit North band could jeopardize their chances at going to college and pursuing a career in music.

But Melloy said that "any future harm to the Wilsons' careers was speculative."

"Speculative harm does not support a preliminary injunction," the decision states.

Judges Duane Benton and Kristine Gerhard Baker concurred with Melloy.


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