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Cary-Grove High School student files federal lawsuit against Crystal Lake-based District 155 over free speech dispute

Photo provided
Matt Ahmann
Photo provided Matt Ahmann

CARY – Attorneys met Thursday over a lawsuit accusing Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 administrators of discouraging a student from speaking during a mayoral visit and suspending him for posting recordings of the politician’s speech online.

Cary-Grove High School senior Matthew Ahmann filed the lawsuit against the district’s board of education in federal court Monday. Ahmann is seeking more than $50,000 in damages and requesting his suspension records be expunged.

The student declined to comment on the lawsuit. His lawyer, Nemura Pencyla, could not be reached Thursday night.

On Sept. 26, Cary Mayor Mark Kownick gave a speech about government and politics at the high school, according to the lawsuit.

Before presenting, however, Kownick approached the school’s dean, Jim Kelly, about Ahmann’s “prior political activity” and asked that he be restrained from saying or doing anything during the mayor’s speech, the suit stated.

Ahmann is a moderator of an online group that discusses political topics and has criticized Kownick’s politics in the past, according to the lawsuit. He’s listed as the admin of a private Facebook group called Cary-Grove Politics.

Reached by phone Thursday, Kownick declined to comment, citing a village policy barring him from speaking about ongoing litigation.

Weeks after the mayor’s visit, Ahmann posted video and audio recordings of Kownick’s speech online. The student’s attorney stated in the lawsuit that because the recordings were of a political figure performing his public duties, Ahmann had the right to post them online.

On Oct. 12, Ahmann was given a one-day in-school suspension for “inappropriate cellphone use in class without permission,” the lawsuit states.

Ahmann accused school administrators of not letting him appeal the suspension.

The school district’s attorney, Babak Bakhtiari, declined to comment.

It is unclear if other students also were suspended for using their phones during the mayor’s speech.

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