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Plum School Officials Offer Clarification Following Questions Over Free Speech

Updated at 4 p.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has stepped away from its threat to file a First Amendment lawsuit against the Plum Borough School District for trying to restrict students' comments on social media about the investigation into sexual misconduct by at least two teachers. Plum Superintendent Timothy Glasspool clarified the district's position on its website late Monday morning following the threatened suit, as well as a student protest.

“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,” said Legal Director Vic Walczak. “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.”

The ACLU said it would continue to monitor the situation to make sure “students’ free-speech rights are respected” and will take any additional action that might be needed in the future.  The group is asking any student that feels their rights are being infringed up to contact the ACLU.

Original post: ACLU to Plum School District: Clarify Policy or ‘We’ll See You in Court’

A group of students spent Monday morning protesting for their first amendment rights outside of Plum Senior High. The students are upset over a Friday assembly at which the principal and Plum’s police chief told students not to post about recent events on social media or discuss the matters in school.

At issue is an ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct by at least two teachers. But the ACLU of Pennsylvania said the administration and police overstepped their boundaries.

“This is just so wrong on so many levels,” said Legal Director Vic Walczak. “There’s something called freedom of speech, I’m not sure what part of that is unclear to the principal and to the police chief.”

At the assembly, students were told they could face discipline if caught discussing the issue in school, and could face criminal prosecution if they posted something about it on social media.

“The police cannot be running around threatening people with criminal prosecution if they talk about this,” said Walczak. “The absurd thing is that everybody in the Pittsburgh area seems to be talking about this issue and the people who are most impacted, the students of Plum High School are under a criminal threat of prosecution if they talk about it, it’s crazy.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the Plum High School principal as well as the police chief, asking that they clarify the policy. The administration has said limiting free speech was not the intent, but rather protecting students who may be targeted. Walczak said there are already laws in place for that.

“There are laws against witness intimidation, there are laws against bullying and so those are more finely tuned to prevent speech that could be very dangerous,” he said.

Plum School District officials were given until noon Monday to respond to the letter from the ACLU asking that the district clarify its policy. Plum Superintendent Timothy Glasspool released a letter on the district's website before that deadline stating that "it is the position of the Plum Borough School District that the district will not take actions that infringe upon the First Amendment rights of its students or staff with respect to their use of social media. The district will not prevent or inhibit any individuals from engaging in constitutionally protected speech."

It goes on to read, "It is not the district's intent to prosecute or discipline any students for exercising those right to the extent they are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution...We would again urge that all individuals refrain from engaging in any irresponsible, harassing and/or intimidating communications with respect to the ongoing investigations."