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Lau v. Board of Education of the East Islip Union Free School District (Challenging excessive suspension of fifth grader)

This case concerns the constitutionality of the excessive suspension of a fifth grade student for writing a violent story about a teacher during a classroom assignment. In the spring of 2004, a 10-year-old boy, in compliance with a writing assignment given by his fifth grade teacher, wrote a story about a day in fourth grade when he felt he was unfairly punished by his fourth grade teacher and described the fantasy of killing that teacher. Although he violated neither school policy nor the conditions of the assignment, and although the school district failed to follow the recommendations of its own psychiatrist, the student was suspended for the entire 2004-2005 school year.

On Oct. 26, 2004, the NYCLU filed a complaint on the boy’s behalf, claiming that the suspension violated, among other things, his substantive and procedural due process rights secured by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal Constitution. The complaint sought a permanent injunction enjoining the boy’s suspension, as well as damages for his emotional distress and humiliation. A settlement was reached and the student returned to school. 

E.D.N.Y., Index No. 04 Civ. 4672 (TP)(AL) (direct) 

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