BY JOE PINCHOT JPINCHOT@SHARONHERALD.COM





A Hermitage school case is back in court. Hermitage School District, three of its administrators, a former student and his parents have asked a federal judge to decide whether the student was properly disciplined for creating an unflattering Web profile of a principal. The student, Justin Layshock, and his parents, Donald and Cheryl Layshock, sued the district, Superintendent Karen A. Ionta, Hickory High School principal Chris Gill and former principal Eric W. Trosch arguing the Web profile was free speech protected by the First Amendment. On Tuesday -- Justin's 19th birthday -- each side asked U.S. District Court Judge Terrence F. McVerry to grant summary judgment in the case. They both argue there are no disputed facts and McVerry can apply the applicable law to decide the case. McVerry must decide whether there are undisputed facts, or if there are discrepancies that would be best worked through by a jury. McVerry has been given hundreds of pages of documents to read, including their lists of undisputed facts; their briefs; depositions from the administrators, Layshock family members, teachers and other school staff members; statements from teachers about school disruptions caused by the Web site; two student statements that Justin showed them the Web site at school; a copy of the Web site; and district policies. Justin created the profile of Trosch, who has since become middle school principal, on myspace.com from his grandmother's computer. The profile, created about Dec. 10, 2005, contained slang words referring to sexual orientation, the male sex organ and drinking, and showed a photograph of Trosch taken from a school yearbook. At the request of school officials, Myspace took down Justin's site and three others that also targeted Trosch. Hermitage police investigated the Web sites and Chief Patrick B. McElhinny said the department has turned over the information to the Mercer County District Attorney's Office for review. Justin admitted creating the Web site and was suspended for 10 days, assigned to the school's alternative education program, which no longer exists, and barred from participating in school activities and graduation. The Layshocks, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the suit saying administrators had no right to punish Justin for something that is protected by the First Amendment. Administrators countered that the sites disrupted the school day, because students talked about and accessed the sites in class and officials shut down student access to computers Dec. 16 to 21, 2005, which caused computer-reliant classes to be canceled. After McVerry refused to issue a temporary restraining order that would have reinstated Justin to regular classes pending a resolution to the suit, the administration agreed to begin allowing Justin back into his classes, and he was allowed to attend graduation. At that time McVerry did not rule on the heart of the lawsuit: whether the Web site was protected speech. He did express concerns about the alternative education program and the appropriateness of the punishment. The judge also agreed with administrators that the Web site caused a disruption in school operations and interfered with the rights of others. Justin has since begun studying French at St. John's University, New York City, which gave him a scholarship.

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