Judge dismisses lawsuit by student punished for story

Published 6:15 pm Friday, August 4, 2006

A federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit of a high school student who was suspended for writing about a dream in which a student shoots a math teacher.

In his Tuesday order, U.S. District Senior Judge Marvin Shoob said the writings were “sufficiently disturbing” to support the school system’s disciplinary action against Rachel Boim, who claimed her right to expression had been violated.

Shoob also dismissed a companion lawsuit in which Boim’s parents sought to recoup legal fees.

“Rachel’s story alone, when read in light of the recent history of school shootings, was sufficient to lead school officials reasonably to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities — specifically, that Rachel might attempt to shoot her math teacher,” Shoob wrote.

In Boim’s story, a student dreams of shooting her sixth-period math teacher. Like the student in the story, Shoob noted, Boim’s sixth-period class was math.

An attorney representing Boim and her family said he was “deeply disappointed” and planned to appeal.

The story was in a journal Boim, then 14, brought to an art class at Roswell High School in 2003.

“While there is no evidence that Rachel ever directly showed the story to anyone else, it is undisputed that she brought the notebook containing the story to school and that she passed the notebook to another student before it was confiscated by a teacher,” Shoob wrote.

Boim was initially expelled. But after the case received media attention, the Fulton County school board reduced the punishment to a 10-day suspension.

Boim said she never meant any harm and news about the incident attracted support for her from advocates of free expression. At the school system’s discipline hearing, Georgia’s poet laureate, David Bottoms, was among those who testified on her behalf.

On Wednesday, Bottoms called the judge’s ruling “ridiculous.” Before he spoke on Boim’s behalf at the discipline hearing, Bottoms said, he carefully read her story.

“It was absolutely clear to me, even on first reading, that this was a story, a fantasy story,” he said.

Her suspension recalls George Orwell’s novel, “1984,” in which people are prosecuted for “thought crimes,” Bottoms said.

“It was her own private thought,” Bottoms said. “It’s indicative, I think, of the sort of atmosphere we’re creating, not only in schools, but in our country.”

Boim, now 17, currently attends a private school.