Judge rules in favor of school officials

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A federal judge ruled that Juneau school officials did not violate a student's rights by confiscating a banner during the Olympic Torch Relay last year.

Joseph Frederick, then an 18-year-old senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, was suspended for 10 days for his role in displaying a banner Jan. 24, 2002, that read ''Bong hits 4 Jesus,'' school officials said.

The Juneau School Board upheld the suspension, but then-Superintendent Gary Bader shortened it.

Frederick sued the school board and high school principal Deb Morse for violating his rights to free speech under the federal and state constitutions. He wanted the suspension removed from his school records and sought to stop the district from taking the same type of action again. He also asked for unspecified monetary damages.

But U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick ruled last week that students watching the torch relay were in a school-sponsored event. As such, school officials had wider discretion to control Frederick's actions and were entitled to regulate speech that encouraged drug use, he said.

Sedwick said school officials could reasonably perceive the banner as advocating drug use. He said Frederick's statements went against the school's drug prevention policies.

The case did not go to trial. Frederick and school officials asked Sedwick to issue a judgment based on written arguments.

Sedwick also ruled that Morse and the school board would have been immune from monetary damages stemming from the alleged violation of Frederick's rights.

Frederick will appeal the decision to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said his attorney, Douglas Mertz.

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