Sunday, September 27, 2020
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Suspended for a class video, student sues Dist. 155

Mayor Mark Kownick of Cary, Illinois, spoke to an Advanced Placement Government and Politics class at Cary-Grove High School in October, and one student posted an audio track of his alleged remarks, made in the class, about a property owner in the town:

A speaker on the video, purportedly Mr Konwick, can be heard characterizing the resident in a negative light. The school district punished Matt Ahmann, a senior at the school, for posting the video in October, by giving him a one-day in-school suspension.

Mr Ahmann filed a federal lawsuit against the Board of Education of Community High School District 155 on Monday, January 7, according to a report in Courthouse News. He claims the suspension violated his First Amendment rights of free expression.

The school district said its decision to suspend Mr Ahmann was final and loosely cited a district policy against using a cellphone in class. But the student’s attorney, Patrick Provenzale of Lisle, Illinois, suspects a more political motive behind the suspension.

He claims that Mr Kownick, “directly or indirectly, communicated with Dean [Jim] Kelly before presenting his political speech … to present his concerns about Matt’s presence during the speech and Matt’s prior political activity, and to direct Dean Kelly to restrain Matt from saying or doing anything during Mayor Kownick’s speech.”

Mr Ahmann had publicly criticized the mayor prior to the mayor’s visit to the high school, you see. If those allegations are true, however, this would constitute an attempt at prior restraint and would violate Matt’s free-speech rights. Any overt attempt to silence free speech on the part of a government official would be illegal.

At stake is $50,000 and a clearing of Mr Ahmann’s record of the one-day suspension, and all parties are blameless until the case is decided and any appeals have been exhausted. The suspension was served in October, so that day can’t be given back.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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