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Suit: School district violating teachers' rights

January 1, 2007
A federal suit filed this week in Indianapolis accuses a school district of violating teachers' constitutional rights by blocking access to two political Web sites relating to the board's actions and removal of the superintendent.

This is the third suit lodged against the Perry Township School Board since November, when the board voted to place Superintendent H. Douglas Williams on paid administrative leave pending a review of his performance.

Filed by Perry Education Association President Terry Rice and Southport Elementary School teacher Sherrie Williamson, the suit alleges that school board president Susan Adams told the interim superintendent to have access blocked to www.takebackperryschools.com and www.wesupportwilliams.com from school computers. They want Judge David F. Hamilton to declare the district's singling out and blocking the two Web sites and restore access. No other sites were targeted, the suit says.

Both want to access these sites "to receive news, information, and opinions regarding the betterment of the school," the suit says, noting that both retain a First Amendment right to do so. "There is no content-neutral basis for distinguishing between the (two) and any other political news, information, and/or opinion website which is accessible from the school's computers and Internet service."

Additionally, the suit notes that the school district does not have a specific policy outlining what constitutes an "educationally valid website" or why a site would be disruptive to the educational process. As a result, the ban is considered "arbitrary, standard less, (and) constitutes content-based discrimination."

This recent suit comes a week after Williams reached a settlement in principle with the district, which be will be voted on at the July 9 board meeting. Williams had sued the board in May, and Chief Judge Larry McKinney ruled last month that Nancy Walsh, school board vice president, was too biased to vote on his firing. A settlement would end that suit and any potential appeal.

However, another suit filed by community organization Take Back Perry Schools asked a judge to reinstate Williams. That suit in Marion Circuit Court remains on hold and could hinge on the board's action on the settlement.
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