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Judge Lifts Graduation Ban on Student in Free Speech Case

Holly Asuncion and four of her friends lost hours of precious primping time Wednesday on the third floor of Norwalk Superior Court.

On what was to be the crowning day of their careers at Downey High School, the five seniors found themselves waiting for a judge to rule on whether Asuncion could participate in commencement ceremonies that evening.

Just two hours before the ceremony was to begin, a judge ruled that the school district could not bar Asuncion from the ceremonies because of a parody she had written that appeared in the school newspaper Friday.

Against complaints that the parody was anti-Semitic and targeted a fellow student, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union argued that punishing Asuncion for the article violated her freedom of speech.

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The two-page article mimicked an ad bought by the mother of school yearbook editor Anna Salusky that congratulated Salusky’s achievements. Asuncion’s version featured references to the Unabomber, some of which appeared in a German font that some have characterized as anti-Semitic.

Principal Allen Layne said the parody had “crossed the line.”

“She wrote a nasty little article about another student,” he said. “We don’t have a problem about freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of someone else to be free from harassment.”

Asuncion, editor of the student newspaper, said the parody was simply an easy way to fill two extra pages of print. She denied targeting the yearbook editor, whom she said was her friend until the newspaper was distributed.

“I think someone’s pride was hurt and they needed to redeem themselves,” she said.

After Layne spelled out the punishment Friday, Asuncion called the Student Press Law Center in Washington, which contacted Los Angeles attorney Dennis Hernandez to represent her. Hernandez called the ACLU, whose representatives argued the case Wednesday morning before district Supt. Edward Sussman, who supported Layne’s decision.

But the judge granted a temporary restraining order filed by the ACLU, ruling that the punishment was unjustified and that free speech rights extend to high school newspapers.


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