Published Online: April 15, 2013
Published in Print: April 17, 2013, as Judge Backs Student in Silent-Protest Case

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Judge Backs Student in Silent-Protest Case

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School officials likely violated the First Amendment free-speech rights of a Florida student when they barred her from engaging in a silent protest against anti-gay bullying, a federal district judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge John E. Steele of Fort Myers, Fla., refused this month to dismiss most of a lawsuit brought by Amber Hatcher, a student at DeSoto County High School in Arcadia, Fla., over her efforts to organize participation last spring in the Day of Silence, an event sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

The suit alleges that the principal of DeSoto High refused to approve students' participation and told them that "peaceful protests are against district policy."

Ms. Hatcher and one other student were suspended after they attempted to participate in the event. School officials have said she was suspended because she was disruptive after being called to a dean's office.

When the sophomore asked the principal in January about participating in this year's Day of Silence, which is scheduled nationally for April 19, she was told that she could not, her suit says.

The district's lawyers asserted in a hearing that Ms. Hatcher and other students would not be barred from participating in the event this week.

Vol. 32, Issue 28, Page 5

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