Ky. District Wins Challenge to Anti-Harassment Policy

By Mark Walsh — April 09, 2008 1 min read
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A Kentucky student who asserted that his school district’s policy against student harassment chilled any potential speech of his against homosexuality today lost in a federal appeals court.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled 2-1 that Timothy Morrison did not present a “justiciable” controversy because the former student at Boyd County High School was suing for nominal damages over an abandoned school board policy.

“The claim at stake here involves Morrison’s choice to chill his own speech based on his perception that he would be disciplined for speaking,” said the majority in Morrison v. Board of Education of Boyd County .

The case stems from a widely reported controversy in the Kentucky district that started when school officials refused to recognize a Gay Straight Alliance at Boyd County High in 2002. That led to a lawsuit, which led to a consent decree in which the district agreed to adopt an anti-harassment policy that covered sexual orientation. The decree also called for students to participate in anti-harassment training, and that led to objections from some parents and students that the policies would discourage or prohibit the students from speaking about their religious beliefs about homosexuality. They sued.

In the meantime, the Boyd County board softened its policy, stating that anti-gay speech would not be prohibited unless it was severe or pervasive enough to affect a student’s education or create a climate of hostility. Education Week last reported on the case here.

I won’t even try to go much into the complex procedural history of the Morrison suit, other than to say that today’s opinion is actually a revision of an earlier 6th Circuit panel’s ruling.

“This case should be over,” the majority said today. “Allowing it to proceed to determine the constitutionality of an abandoned policy—in the hope of awarding the plaintiff a single dollar—vindicates no interest and trivializes the important business of the federal courts.”

The dissenting judge said he believes Morrison has standing to sue over the board’s original policy.

“In February 2005 when Morrison filed his complaint, the threatened suspension loomed above him like the proverbial sword of Damocles and silenced his speech,” said Judge Karen Nelson Moore.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.