South Hadley man alleges free-speech rights violated by town officials

By Jason Marder

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BOSTON – A South Hadley parent filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Tuesday claiming school officials violated his First Amendment rights by forcing him out of a public meeting for criticizing their handling of the alleged bullying that led to the suicide of freshman Phoebe Prince in January.

The 12-page suit filed on behalf of Luke Gelinas claims school officials violated his free-speech rights at a meeting April 14, when he called for the dismissal of several officials, including former chairman of the school committee, Edward J. Boisselle.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at the Boston office of his attorney, Howard Friedman, Gelinas said school officials should have done more to prevent the suicide in January 2010 of 15-year-old Prince, who hanged herself after alleged bullying from her classmates at South Hadley High School.

According to minutes of the April 14 meeting posted on the South Hadley Public School website, Boisselle expressed concern that private information about Phoebe Prince had been provided to the media. He said private information could not be discussed during the meeting’s public comment period and restricted each speaker to three minutes.

Gelinas told reporters that he had been concerned about bullying at South Hadley High, where his son was a student, and claimed he spoke calmly and respectfully at the meeting. He said Boisselle raised his voice, interrupted, and ultimately refused to let Gelinas speak.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages against all the defendants and punitive damages against Boisselle.

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