School district partly vindicated

Published on Thu, Jul 26, 2001
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School district partly vindicated

The Blaine school district has won a partial victory defending their decision to expel James Lavine for writing a poem in October 1998 portraying a school shooting.

“When we look to all of the relevant facts here, we conclude that the school did not violate the First Amendment when it emergency expelled James,” wrote U.S. district court ninth circuit judge Raymond C. Fisher in a July 20 appellate opinion. “The school had a duty to prevent any potential violence on campus to James or other students.”

The school had appealed a February 2000 decision by district court judge Barbara Rothstein who found that the school had violated Lavine’s constitutional rights by expelling him and maintaining documentation of the expulsion in his school file. The court had prohibited the school from maintaining such documentation.

The appellate opinion reversed the lower court’s decision that the expulsion violated Lavine’s right but upheld the prohibition on maintaining the documentation.

“Considering all of the relevant facts and the totality of the circumstances, we hold that the school’ s emergency expulsion was reasonable and did not violate the First Amendment,” Fisher wrote. “School officials have a difficult task in balancing safety concerns against chilling free expression. This case demonstrates how difficult that task can be.”

“Even though we conclude that emergency expelling James did not violate the First Amendment, the same cannot be said for the school’ s placement and maintenance in James’ file of what the district court characterized as “negative documentation.” The school need not permanently blemish James’ record and harm his ability to secure future employment,” Fisher wrote. .

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