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A federal appeals court last week barred a Utah high school from including two Christian songs in its graduation ceremony.

Yet students and parents at the school sang one of the songs anyway at the June 7 ceremony.

The injunction granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 16-year-old member of the school choir who objected to the songs because she is Jewish.

Rachel Bauchman said in her lawsuit that the choir at West High School in Salt Lake City sang religious songs at every school concert and performed at Christian churches.

The teenager claimed she was harassed for challenging the practices.

School officials told Ms. Bauchman she could skip the graduation ceremony. But she rejected that option.

On June 6, a panel of the 10th Circuit court barred the choir from singing the songs, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" and "Friends," at the ceremony

But students and parents defied the order, launching into "Friends" despite attempts by the principal to stop them. The principal vowed disciplinary action against students who joined the singing.

A junior high school teacher did not violate the free-speech rights of a student when she refused to allow a 9th grader to submit a research paper on the life of Jesus, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in Settle v. Dickson County School Board that teachers deserve wide latitude in giving student assignments.

The case involved a 1991 incident in which Brittney Settle, then a student at Dickson County (Tenn.) Junior High School, sought to fulfill a writing assignment with a paper about Jesus. The teacher, Dana Ramsey, rejected the topic because the girl did not submit it for review in advance.

The teacher also said that Ms. Settle's strong Christian beliefs might lead to misunderstandings when the paper was graded. Also, the teacher did not think Ms. Settle would have to do much new research about the topic and thus the purpose of the assignment would be defeated.

The girl's parents took the matter to the school board, which backed the teacher. They then filed a federal lawsuit. A U.S. district judge dismissed the case, and in a May 8 ruling, the Sixth Circuit panel affirmed the dismissal.

Chief Circuit Judge Gilbert Merritt wrote that while students do not shed their constitutional rights while in school, "learning is more vital in the classroom than free speech."

In a closely watched case involving sexual harassment among students, a federal appeals court has ruled that a school counselor could not be held liable for failing to prevent harassment of a California high school girl.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2 to 1 last month that school officials did not have a clearly established duty at the time of the incidents to prevent peer harassment. The court reversed a federal district judge and granted qualified immunity to Richard Homrighouse, a counselor in the Petaluma, Calif.

Doe v. Petaluma City School District involves allegations by a high school student, identified as Jane Doe, that she was the subject of lewd writings on restroom walls. The suit alleges that Mr. Homrighouse failed to take her complaints seriously, telling her that "boys will be boys."

The girl sued the district and the counselor under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds.

In its May 12 ruling, the Ninth Circuit court held that from 1990 to early 1992, when the harassment allegedly occurred, school officials did not have a clear duty to prevent student-to-student harassment.

However, the court said that if school counselors were to ignore such harassment today, they might not be entitled to immunity because of a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, the High Court held that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination barred by Title IX and that students could sue for money damages under the federal law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a new outlet in cyberspace, and many of its offerings deal with school-law topics. The organization last month launched a program called "Constitution Hall" on the America Online computer network.

One section of Constitution Hall is dedicated to students' rights, with briefing papers for young people about due process of law, religious liberty, and free expression.

Bulletin boards about teenage curfews, school dress codes, and other topics have drawn many messages from network subscribers. Constitution Hall can be reached by typing the keyword "aclu."

One document available for downloading from the A.C.L.U. is a letter the organization sent late last month to the Bellevue, Wash., school district threatening legal action over its handling of a high-tech prank.

Earlier this year, Paul K. Kim, a senior at Newport High School, created a satirical entry about his school on the World Wide Web, a part of the Internet that allows for graphics and electronic links to other areas of the global computer network.

Mr. Kim created what he called "The Unofficial Newport High School Home Page" on the Web, which was a parody of his school that included links to areas of the Internet offering sexually explicit material. The links took readers to articles about oral sex and masturbation and to a Playboy centerfold photo.

School officials soon found out about the parody, which Mr. Kim had created at home.

Karin Cathey, the principal of Newport High, withdrew Mr. Kim's recommendation for a National Merit Scholarship.

She also wrote to the colleges where Mr. Kim had applied, saying the administration was withdrawing recommendations it may have submitted in Mr. Kim's behalf. Because the administration had not submitted any such recommendations, the A.C.L.U. contends the letters were meant to punish him for the parody.

The A.C.L.U. says school officials violated Mr. Kim's rights of free speech and due process. The organization contends that Mr. Kim was within his free-speech rights to create the parody and notes that the home page was clearly marked as "unofficial."

The school district has sent a response to the A.C.L.U. and is seeking a meeting, said Ann Oxrieder, a district spokeswoman. The district does not view the principal's withdrawal of support for the National Merit Scholarship as a form of punishment, she said.

The school's chief concern is that "anybody could have innocently landed on some pornographic material and connected it with Newport High School," she said. "The home page, while having the word 'unofficial,' did not look unofficial."

--Mark Walsh

Vol. 14, Issue 38

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