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Topic: Teachers sue over website
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Teachers sue over website
Posted: Aug 23, 2000 4:04 PM
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Note to reader: It seems there is quite a lot of interest in this
issue and I have two more postings, so I will send them now. If it is
too much, of course, with apologies, you can delete them.
By way of the Christian Science Monitor Electronic Edition, Tuesday,
August 22, 2000.
See [From
the New York Times, August 13, 1999]. See


Teachers Sue Student Over Web Site

By Pamela Mendels

In a novel legal case involving the Internet, three teachers in
Indiana have filed a defamation lawsuit against a student who posted
a Web site that suggested they were devil worshippers who should be
shunned or mocked.

The suit, filed last week in Hamilton County Circuit Court in
Noblesville, Ind., could well be the first in which teachers have
brought a case to court over a student Web site, according to Richard
J. Darko, the lawyer representing the teachers.

Darko said the suit was an appropriate response to the Web site,
which left the teachers named on it feeling threatened and concerned
that their reputations had been tarnished. "Threats and defamation
don't have First Amendment protection," Darko said.

The site, which has been taken off the Web, was created by Brian
Conradt, a student at Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind., an affluent
suburb of Indianapolis. The site apparently was posted early in 1999,
but not discovered by teachers until April 21 -- the day after the
Littleton, Colo., shootings that shocked the nation.

According to the complaint filed in court by the teachers, the site
included satanic-like symbols such as a flaming star. It also listed
the names of 11 school district employees, including eight teachers
at the high school, and posed the question: "Are they innocent
teachers compelled to help others? Or are they really Satan
worshipping demons?"

The page, which contained some misspellings, went on to urge
visitors: "Whenever you see these teachers in the hallway or in
class, tell them you know of their secret double identity and shun
them for it. Better yet, after you inform them of your knowledge,
point at them and laugh in their faces." The page also contained an
e-mail address that included the phrase "tyme-2-dye."

The lawsuit accuses the student, who is 16 years old, of defamation,
intentional infliction of emotional distress and of portraying the
three teachers in a "false light." The suit seeks damages in an
amount to be determined by the court. It also names the boy's mother
and seeks damages of up to $15,000 from her under an Indiana statute,
usually invoked in vandalism cases, that holds parents responsible
for damage intentionally caused by their children.

Laurie Hansen, the boy's mother, said the family had just returned
from vacation this week and was seeking a lawyer to represent them in
the matter. She said the suit was an overreaction to the Web site,
which she said had been meant as nothing more than a prank. She said
her son had apologized in person to the teachers for the site after
they learned of it, and that he had meant no harm by the posting. "He
feels very sorry and bad about this," she said.

Hansen also said she feared that the suit would chill the speech of
other young people. "This just stomps all over our right to freedom
of speech," she said. "I'd be very, very careful about what I say on
a Web site."

But Diana Jill Grimes, a geography teacher and one of the plaintiffs,
said she was terrified when she first read the site, adding that in
the wake of Littleton and similar incidents at schools around the
country, many teachers feel under siege. "When I see students are
instructed to confront me in the hallway, to shun me and the person
who put this up is called 'tyme-2-dye,' I take this as a threat,"
she said.

"This suit is a way of saying 'It's not right,'" she added later. "A
school should be a safe place. You shouldn't be scared to send your
child to school. And I shouldn't be afraid to go to work."

Helen Shiffer, an English teacher, said she joined the suit in part
to send a message to other students. "It's a way of making a
statement that some behaviors are acceptable and some not," she said.

Apparently, the teachers are not alone in their concern. The Indiana
State Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the major
teachers' union, the National Education Association, is paying the
legal fees for the teachers. The support is part of an effort by the
union to promote safety in schools, said Daniel L. Clark, deputy
executive director of the state teachers' group, which has about
43,000 members.

But Ann Beeson, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who
is not involved in the case, characterized the lawsuit as a
heavy-handed response. She described it as another in a string of
what she considers ill-advised efforts to clamp down on the free
speech of young people in the wake of violent incidents at schools.

"It's a very sad day when teachers are suing for what is not only
protected expression -- even if it's juvenile expression -- but for
what I assume teachers experience all the time," she said, referring
to adolescent behavior by students.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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