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A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union said the group is considering filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of students in a Clarion County, Pa., school district who claim they were bullied by a hard-nosed superintendent. Witold “Vic” Walczak, head of the ACLU’s Greater Pittsburgh chapter, said a current lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court against the Union School District and various school officials involves three students, one of whom has since moved out of the district. Among those named in the lawsuit is Robert McWilliams, who served as both the superintendent and principal of Union High School, and nine members of the school board. The students — Robert Beers, Michael Klein and Patrick Smith — all claim they were expelled or suspended from the high school without due process of law, including a hearing. They are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and are represented by both the ACLU and Civil Rights Clinic at the Duquesne University School of Law. “All of the plaintiffs are currently out of school, either by way of suspension or expulsion, and some have already been out of school for six months or more,” the lawsuit claimed. The ACLU claims that without granting hearings to the students, the school officials violated the teens’ constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment as well as the Pennsylvania Administrative Code. Beers also unsuccessfully sought a temporary order that would have reinstated him to the district pending a hearing. School officials have said that Beers violated the school’s dress code and threatened McWilliams, and lawyers for the district argued that Beers was not actually expelled, but rather received a 10-day suspension and was placed in an alternative program for troubled youth. “Assuming that’s right, then the Constitution does not require more due process than he received,” Walczak said. U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster agreed, ruling that the district did not irreparably harm Beers by putting him in the alternative program. However, Walczak added, “the difficulty with that decision is that in reality, he’s not in school. He’s in a program that’s primarily for delinquents. … There is minimal education provided. He has not gotten a report card, there is no transcript of grades. You can’t graduate from that program, you can’t go to college.” The district, which was represented by attorneys Robert Cottington and Edward Stoner, also argued that Beers’ mother met with McWilliams and a guidance counselor at the time of his suspension, which constituted an informal hearing. Cottington and Stoner also told Lancaster that Beers admitted during that meeting that he had threatened the principal. Neither returned a telephone call seeking comment on the possible class action. Though Walczak said no decision has been made on whether to appeal Lancaster’s ruling, he is hopeful that ultimately, Lancaster will change his mind. “I think the problem was that we, the plaintiffs, did not give the judge enough information about this alternative program,” he said. He added that the plantiffs’ attorneys may seek class-action certification because several parents have complained that McWilliams has expelled a dozen or more students “without any due process at all.” McWilliams made headlines in recent weeks when he said he would file disorderly conduct charges against a 16-year-old student who waved a chocolate gun at other students. Walczak said in some students’ cases, the alleged misconduct might justify expulsion, while in others, such a punishment might seem too severe. But he said the real issue was the alleged lack of hearings. “It is that practice of expulsions without due process,” he said.

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