Interesting High School Speech Case:

It's from several years ago, but the story about it (Verdicts & Settlements, Mass. Lawyers Weekly, Sept. 22, 2003) just got loaded onto Nexis.

A high school senior -- a former "High School Student of the Month" -- "took a photo of [the superintendent of schools] from the public domain and altered it to depict her with the flag of the former Soviet Union, a Nazi armband, a picture of Vladimir Lenin, and in the company of Osama Bin Laden and the devil. He posted the photo on [a publicly accessible] website with comments critical of her, signing his own name."

He was then approached at school by the police, and read his Miranda rights; the police then went to his house and seized his computer. "The town contended that this was not speech protected by the First Amendment and the police sought a criminal complaint for harassment," though the charge was later withdrawn.

"One of the officers reportedly said that there wouldn't have been an issue with the photo if it hadn't included a Nazi armband, which offended the superintendent because she was Jewish. The plaintiff stated that he did not know that she was Jewish, nor was his intent to mock her in any way because of her religion.... The police chief circulated a letter to religious leaders informing them that the police had been able 'to track down and charge the student responsible for this anti-Semitic act.' The School Committee held a locally televised meeting, and a member read a statement that characterized the photo as 'racist,' and without naming them, suggested that the plaintiff's parents had failed as role models."

The student had attempted to apologize throughout, but he was nonetheless suspended for five days. The student sued, and a state court judge "issued an injunction staying the suspension." The case eventually settled for $35,000 (presumably the full settlement, rather than $35,000 plus attorney's fees). The suspension was ultimately removed from the student's record, and the School Committee ultimately publicly acknowledged "that the student's conduct was not criminal nor intended to be anti-Semitic, and was protected by the Constitution."