Finger slammed: Court won't hear boy's case

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal filed on behalf of a New Jersey boy suspended from school almost four years ago after a playground game of cops and robbers.

The decision announced last week means a ruling issued last year by a federal court will stand. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had affirmed a decision made in 2002 by the U.S. District Court in Newark, which dismissed a lawsuit filed by the boy's parents.

Scot and Cassandra Garrick sued the Sayreville school district after their son and three other kindergartners were suspended following the March 15, 2000 incident. The children were playing during recess and, while pretending their fingers were guns, told each other, "I want to shoot you.'' Their words were overheard by some classmates, who then told teachers.

The Garricks, the only parents to bring civil action against the district, were represented by the Rutherford Institute, the Albemarle-based civil liberties group that focuses on First Amendment and religious freedom cases.

The suit sought unspecified damages and an order that would have removed the suspension from their son's school record. The child was enrolled in private school following the incident.

School officials said the ruling was "a decisive and very significant'' legal victory.

"We stressed that this was never a zero-tolerance case, and it was never a case about cops and robbers,'' Sean X. Kelly, the district's attorney in the matter, told the Home News Tribune of East Brunswick. "Instead, it's a case about school discipline during some very difficult times, and that context is important.''

Officials with the Rutherford Institute did not comment on the ruling. They claimed the boy's Constitutional rights to free speech, procedural due process, and equal protection of law had been violated by the school.