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ACLU of PA Urges Court To Uphold Free-Speech Ruling

December 10, 2008

Philadelphia, PA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania will urge a federal appeals court today to uphold a 2007 ruling that a school district violated a student’s first amendment rights. The boy, Jason Layschock, posted a parody profile of his school's principal on MySpace in 2005, for which the school distict suspended Layshock for 10 days, ordered him to finish high school in an Alternative Education Program, and forbade him from attending graduation.

ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director Vic Walczak says the issue at hand in this appeal is the school's right to punish students for actions taken off of school property.

"The court below said they couldn't, but this is an issue that is unresolved in the law. The Supreme Court noted a year ago that it's one that has not been finally decided, so this is an important case."

Walczak argues that parents should be concerned when schools think they should be able to control what a student says, or does, in his own home.

"Every family is going to have different religious beliefs, different moral values, different family and personal values, and each family has the right to decide on their own how their children are going to behave."

The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, in which a Pennsylvania school district is appealing a lower court's ruling that the district violated Layschock's First Amendment rights by suspending him.

The school district argues it must retain the right to discipline students for any speech that is directed at the school.

Kelly Glorioso Fodel/Eric Mack, Public News Service - PA