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Student Wins Anti-Teacher Web Case

March 20, 1998

CLEVELAND (AP) _ A high school junior suspended for creating a Web site to complain about his band teacher was reinstated by a judge and returned to class Thursday.

Sean O’Brien, 16, even went to the band class and played baritone horn for Raymond Walczuk, the teacher described on his Web site as ``an overweight middle-aged man who doesn’t like to get haircuts″ and who favors some students over others.

``It was pretty much as I expected. It seemed like a normal day at school,″ O’Brien said. ``There was no conflict with Mr. Walczuk. I went to band class _ we did band things, like practicing music.″

O’Brien built his Web site through his home computer. He told some friends and word spread through Westlake High School in suburban Cleveland.

School officials suspended him for 10 days, claiming the site violated a policy that forbids students from showing disrespect to employees.

``We felt there was harm done here,″ Superintendent Beverly Reep said. ``This is cyberspace and it’s the first time we’ve dealt with something like this.″

Federal Judge John M. Manos reinstated O’Brien on Wednesday after eight days of the suspension, and ordered the district not to restrict what the teen-ager puts on a Web site set up through his own computer.

Manos’ order will be in effect until at least April 3, when a full hearing is scheduled on a lawsuit filed by O’Brien seeking $550,000 in damages from the school for violating his First Amendment rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and O’Brien’s lawyers believed the case is the first of its kind regarding a student’s free-speech rights on the Internet.

``We say the situation is analogous to Sean talking to his friends in a coffee shop,″ said his attorney, Kenneth Myers. ``Why can’t he say something critical of the band teacher? He’s on his own time, he’s on his own turf.″

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