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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:As a 14-year-old high school student in Louisiana, Adam Porter drew a picture of his high school under attack by a truck, a missile launcher and a helicopter. The picture contained obscenities and racial epithets directed and identifiable individuals in the picture, including the principal, Conrad Braud. The picture showed a brick being hurled at Braud. Porter drew the picture at his home. He showed it to his mother, Mary LeBlanc, his younger brother, Andrew Breen, and a friend. He then stored the pad of paper in which the sketch was drawn in a household closet. Two years later, Breen dug out the sketchpad, drew a picture of a llama on a blank sheet and took it to school to show his teacher. On the way to school, he allowed a friend to flip through the pad. The friend saw Porter’s 2-year-old drawing and showed it to the bus driver, who confiscated the pad and took it Breen’s middle school principal. Breen was questioned about the drawing and suspended for possessing it on school grounds. The sketchpad was eventually sent to Braud. Braud questioned Porter, who admitted to drawing the picture earlier. Porter’s bag was searched and a box cutter with an exposed blade was found in his wallet. Porter said he used the cutter at his job at a grocery store. Porter’s notebooks also contained references to death, drugs, sex and gang symbols, all of which Porter explained away. The bag also contained a fake ID. LeBlanc was summoned to the school and informed that Porter was being considered for expulsion. A hearing on the final determination was not immediately set, and LeBlanc was told to keep Porter home until a hearing could be held. In the meantime, Porter was arrested for terrorizing the high school and for carrying an illegal weapon. A week later, LeBlanc met with a hearing officer who advised her that expulsion hearing routinely went in the school’s favor. The hearing officer told LeBlanc that Porter could immediately continue his education by enrolling in an alternative school in the parish and waiving the hearing. LeBlanc signed the form waiving the hearing. Porter attended the alternative school for the remainder of the year. He was allowed to re-enroll in his high school, but he eventually dropped out. LeBlanc filed a civil rights suit on behalf of Porter and Breen against multiple school officials. She alleged violations of the First, Fourth and Eighth Amendments, as well as a denial of equal protection and procedural due process rights, though all but the First and Fourth Amendment claims were dismissed without objection. Applying three different standards to the First Amendment claim, the district court granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion. The court also granted summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim because the search was reasonable. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court does not use any of the three theories used by the district court two of which balance the First Amendment rights of students with the special need of educators to maintain a safe and effective learning environment, and one of which deals with regulating speech that constitutes a “true threat.” The court says the former theories do not apply because Porter’s speech was off-campus. The latter theory does not apply because the drawing was carried to school unbeknownst to Porter, so a reasonable person would not perceive that the drawing was a true threat to school safety. The court thus concludes that a fact issue remains as to whether Porter’s First Amendment rights were infringed, and the district court erred in holding otherwise. The next step, though, is to determine if Porter’s First Amendment right was “clearly established” at the time. Given the confusion just within the courts over which theory applies to student speech, the court reasons that there was no pre-existing state of the law to which a school official could have turned to resolve the controversy. The court adds that even if Porter’s rights were clearly established at the time of his expulsion, Braud’s determination that the drawing was not entitled to First Amendment protection was objectively reasonable. “The record indicates that, at the time he recommended Adam for expulsion, Braud was aware that [Porter] was responsible for the drawing, that the drawing was two or three years old, and that the drawing had been brought to Galvez Middle School by [Porter's] younger brother. These facts raise the subtle but important legal questions of whether the drawing constitutes on-campus speech, or an intentionally communicated threat. Although we have answered both of these queries in the negative, we cannot say that all reasonable school officials facing these circumstances would reach the same conclusion.” The court says it is not condoning violations of students’ constitutional rights, but qualified immunity recognizes that school officials, such as Braud, be allowed to make reasonable mistakes when forced to act in the face of uncertainty. The court then finds that the search of Porter’s book bag was reasonable “at its inception,” given that officials have a significant interest in deterring student misconduct and the fact that Porter admitted to the drawing the sketch. Finally, the court rejects Porter’s claim that he was denied his procedural due process rights to a hearing before being removed from the high school. Once a student admits guilt, which Porter did, the need for a hearing is substantially less. Also, his mother knowingly signed a written waiver of his right to hearing so that he could immediately attend the alternative school. OPINION:Higginbotham, J.; King, C.J., Higginbotham and Davis, JJ.

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