Supreme Court Allows Trial To Proceed For Ousted Teacher - News, Weather & Sports

Supreme Court Allows Trial To Proceed For Ousted Teacher

(FRANKFORT, Ky., October 7th, 2002, 3:30 p.m.) -- A teacher who was fired after inviting actor Woody Harrelson to speak to her fifth-grade class about legalizing hemp will be able to sue the Shelby County schools after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday.

The high court refused to consider the school district's plea that the case against Donna Cockrel should have been thrown out before it got started.

The decision by the justices upholds a directive from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that teachers do not lose their free speech rights in a school or a classroom.

Harrelson -- an outspoken advocate of industrial hemp -- made two trips to Cockrel's classroom in 1996 and 1997. Although each of Harrelson's visits were approved by school leaders in advance, the backlash from parents was severe.

School officials did not immediately return calls for comment Monday.

In July 1997, the school board fired Cockrel, citing 17 reasons for her termination, including insubordination and her disparagement of the school's curriculum.

The appellate court said that some of the misconduct allegations by the school predated Harrelson's visits. However, not once before Harrelson's visits did the school reprimand Cockrel.

Cockrel brought hemp into her curriculum as part of an agricultural class about alternative crops that could help save trees and the environment.

Since her firing, Cockrel has reportedly moved to Detroit and is teaching at an elementary school.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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