TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: cathey.txt

Seattle school principal Karin Cathey ruin's a student's college hopes over a Web page!

 from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 Internet sex note hurts college hunt

   When Paul Kim posted a page on the Internet computer network about his
 high school and directed people to on-line sexual material, he considered
 it a joke.
   But Kim's principal at Newport High School in Bellevue didn't think it
 was funny, according to the 17-year-old senior.
   School Principal Karin Cathey withdrew the school's endorsement of him
 as a National Merit finalist, Kim said yesterday, possibly costing him a
 $2,000 scholarship, and sent faxes to every college and university he had
 applied to informing them of the action.
   Cathey also rescinded any letters of recommendation the administration
 had provided to the scools on Kim's behalf, although no letters had been
 written, Kim said.
   Now Kim and the American Civil Liberties Union are asking the Bellevue
 School District to pay him at least $2,000 in damages.  They also are
 demanding that the district or the principal send letters to all the colleges
 and universties explaining what happened
   In a letter to the district, ACLU attorneys contend cathay violated
 Kim's constitutional rights to free speech and due process and
 negligently inflicted emotional distress.
   Sharon Howard, atorney for the school district, said she could not
 comment on the allegations, pending an investigation.
   But Howard said the district would examine the student's free speech
 rights and the school's responsibility to foster public decency.
   Cathey said last night she was barred from discussing the matter by
 federal privacy laws regarding student discipline.
   Kim, described in the ACLU letter as an exceptional student with a 3.88
 grade-point average, has been admitted to Columbia University, but he was
 denied admission to his first choice, Harvard University.  Th reason for
 the denial was unknown.
   "We may never know to what extent that letter affected the decision of
 the (Harvard) admissions office," the ACLU letter states.  "However, we
 can assume that it did not help."
   Cathey's action prompted 12 Newport teachers to sign a letter asking
 her to reconsider her decision, said Janet Sutherland, an English teacher
 at the school who described Kim as a brilliant student.
   "I was very upset about what happened to him," she said.  "I think a
 number of teachers were very puzzled about the disciplined."
   While some action may have been justified, the punishment was
 disproportionate, Sutherland said.
   The posting on the Internet, Kim said yesterday, was done in February
 on his own time on his own computer.
   Kim created a document called a home page, titled the "Unofficial
 Newport High School Home Page."  He placed it on a public directory open
 to any user of the service.
   "I put a satire of the school on the Internet as a joke," Kim said.
   Among the topics was a category called "Favorite Subjects of Newport
 High School Students," under which Kim listed "Sex."
   Under that category, Kim listed "links" to publicly accessible
 documents of a sexual nature elsewhere on the Internet, in the World Wide
 Web.  The links were to a Playboy centerfold, an article about
 masturbation and an article about oral sex.
   Kim also added his home page to a popular Web directory called "Yahoo."
   The home page, which no longer exists, was clearly labeled "unofficial"
 and contained numerous disclaimers, ACLU attorneys assert in the letter
 to the school district.  Its contents were obviously humorous and it
 would have been apparent to any reasonable person that the posting had no
 official tie to the school, they say.
   When a staff member at another Bellevue school complained about the
 document, Kim was summoned in early March to a meeting with an assistant
 principal and his counselor, where he was accused of improperly using the
 school name, the letter states.
   Kim said yesterday that he initially refused to remove the posting, but
 then agreed to a compromise.  He removed the document from the "Yahoo"
 directory and the Web, believing that no action would be taken against him.
   However, Kim was called to a meeting with Cathey on March 28, and she
 informed him that the school had wothdrawn the National Merit endorsement
 five days earlier.
   Before sending the letter, Cathey telephoned the Merit Scholarship
 corporation and found out that if the school rescinded the endorsement,
 Kim no longer be eligible for a scholarship, ACLU attorneys say.
   Kim, who had a near-perfect score on the Scholastic Assessment Test,
 ranked higher on the National Merit Scholarship index than students who
 had obtained monetary awards the previous year, according to attorneys.
   Cathey told Kim that his actions in "distributing pornography"
 reflected poor character and that he didn't deserve a scholarship, the
 attorneys say.
   When Kim repeatedly asked if other discipline would be taken, Cathey
 told him this was the only step and the matter was closed, the attorneys
   But the next day, Kim received a phone call from the Columbia
 University admissions director, informing him that he had received a fax
 from Cathey about the school's endorsement.  Kim tried to alleviate the
 director's concerns.
   Kim demanded a copy of the fax from Cathey and then learned copies had
 been sent to Stanford University, the University of Washington, the
 Universoty of Chicago, Swarthmore College, Princeton University and Harvard.
   On March 29, Cathey wrote a "half-hearted retraction letter" to the
 schools, calling Kim an excellent student going through difficult times,
 ACLU attorneys say.
   Cathey'sa ctions affected not only kim's choice of colleges, but his
 "very future," given the competition from outstanding students across the
 country for limited spaces in those schools, the ACLU attorneys wrote in
 their letter.
   "This is a case of egregious conduct carried out by a high school
 administration who acted with callous disregard of the rights of its
 students," the letter says.  It adds that the discipline appears to have
 been "driven more by emotion than by careful analysis."
   The letter was written by Luct Lee helm and W. Ward Morrison Jr.,
 attorneys for a Seattle law firm who are handling the case at the ACLU's
   Citing U.S. Supreme Court cases, the letter notes that students don't
 shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door and have the
 right to express their opinions, even on controversial subjects, as long
 as they don't substantially interefere with discipline and school operations.
   Even if discipline was warranted, Kim was denied due process because
 the courts have ruled that notice and an opportunity for a hearing must
 be granted when an action by high school officials could cause
 substantial injury to a student, the letter says.
   School district attorney Howard said she would explore whether Cathay
 reasonably addressed concerns about public indecency.
   Howard cited a 1986 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the
 Bethel School District in Pierce County could suspend a student for
 making a sexually suggestive speech during a school election.  The court
 said schools can set limits on sexually explicit speech that may be heard
 by children.
   Helms said Kim's case is different because the conduct didn't affect
 Newport's operation and occurred outside of the school.

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