The following statement can be attributed to Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“Police and school officials at the April 24, 2015, assembly held at Plum Borough School District High School violated students’ First Amendment free-speech rights when they threatened students with criminal prosecution for speaking about the ongoing investigation of sexual misconduct by some teachers with students (tape and transcript of assembly can be found here). The ACLU-PA sent a letter Friday evening to both the Plum police and the school district requesting a statement clarifying that students have a First Amendment right to comment, both in and out of school, about the investigation. Late this morning the School District issued a clarifying statement on their website.
“While more cryptic than we would have liked, the ACLU-PA accepts the Plum Borough School District’s clarification that students have the right to speak about the ongoing investigations. Students should know that so long as they don’t disrupt classes or create a significant and material disruption in the school, they have the right to talk about the ongoing investigation, which is a matter of public concern. That means they are free to discuss the issue in the hallways, the lunchroom, during non-instructional time in the classroom, or while on school buses. Students also have a right to discuss the matter outside of school and on social media. Students should only be concerned with not intimidating or threatening any potential victim or witness into silence or from cooperating with the police and district attorney, which is a crime (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 4951, et seq. ). For more information about students’ free-speech rights, you can view the ACLU-PA’s students’ rights manual, which, starting on page 6, discusses freedom of expression.
“Additionally, we have spoken with District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr., who has advised us that his office is interested in speaking with anyone, including students, who may have information relevant to the ongoing investigation.
“The ACLU-PA will continue to monitor the situation at the Plum schools to ensure that students’ free-speech rights are respected. If any student believes that his or her rights have been or are being violated or threatened, please call the ACLU-PA’s Pittsburgh office at 412-681-7736, and leave a message. We are checking the line regularly and will return your call promptly.”
More about this issue is available at: www.aclupa.org/plumschooldistrict