Student posts images of black classmates and nooses. School punishes him and kids who clicked ‘like.’

A Facebook post got a Hall County teen charged with making a terroristic threat, a charge upheld today the state Supreme Court.

If students post degrading comments or photos of classmates on Instagram or Facebook over the weekend, is it the school’s job to respond on Monday? And can the school discipline not only the posters, but any classmates who “liked” the offensive content?

A lawsuit against a San Francisco area school that disciplined students after an offensive racist post highlights the challenges educators face in policing social media. Parents whose children are being bullied or targeted expect schools to take the lead, but the courts have given mixed signals on whether schools can punish students for ugly but constitutionally protected speech.

Four high school juniors are suing their school for suspending and punishing them for their social media responses to Instagram images of African-American female classmates and the African-American coach of the girl’s basketball team. According to the Albany, Calif., school district, the images included nooses drawn around necks of some of the photographs and side-by-side photos with apes.

The boy who posted the images is facing expulsion. But the four  classmates who chose to  “like” or comment on the racist images were suspended and are now suing. They maintain their free speech rights were violated and they endured public ridicule, shaming and violence. The high school is majority white and Asian-American; African-American students represent 5 percent of enrollment.

Parents of children victimized on social media expect to schools to step in, but the legal reach into student Instagram or Facebook accounts is up for legal debate. The test has been whether the student’s actions disrupted school, but the murky area is how the disruption occurred. A possible factor in the suit: The racist photos were on a private account and disrupted school after one boy’s phone was taken by another student.

The lawsuit states:  “This action arises out of a private online discussion between friends that the Albany School system has pried into without authority. All conduct at issue in this matter occurred off school property, were conducted off school hours, and were otherwise completely unrelated to school activity.”

An attorney for the boys told CBS: “This to me is no different than having a private drawing book and making some offensive drawings at home and sharing them with a couple of friends. Does the school have the right to ruin my life over something I was doing at my house?”

The case also raises questions about what it signifies to click “like” on offensive posts on social media. Does “liking” a repugnant post make you  a party to it?

As CBS reported:

Legal experts say the lawsuit will present federal courts with another opportunity to decide how strictly schools can regulate student speech. And it raises thorny questions about whether “likes” on social media should be treated similarly to the original posts.

“‘Likes’ are ambiguous in that they could be saying, ‘This is funny,’ ‘I agree with it,’ or ‘I don’t agree, but I want to stand up for your right to say it,'” said Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The suspended boys want their records cleared and all disciplinary actions stopped during the lawsuit. The boys contended they felt unsafe returning to school after the incident, which created furor in the community and led to vigils and protests. The boys were given permission to have 20 days on independent study at home. Some chose to return to school with bodyguards provided by the district.

According to San Jose Mercury News:

On March 20, students told teachers about another student’s Instagram account on which racist memes were posted. Some students were alleged to have posted comments on the photos and several others had “liked” the images, which were of 11 students — most of them girls, and all but one a person of color — and the school’s African-American girls basketball coach.

Defense attorney Dan Horowitz, who reviewed the boys’ lawsuit, said it has merit in that the inflammatory posts were on a private account and only disrupted school activities once one boy’s phone was taken by another student. “Having childish or hateful beliefs off campus are 100 percent protected,” Horowitz said. “The school’s publicizing of the matter and exposing the students to ridicule, negative characterizations etc. is deeply troubling. The students cannot defend themselves as they are barred from campus and have no ability to address the student body. “You have the right to be racist in this country, and you have the right not to be racist in this country,” he said. “This turns the school into the Thought Police.”

Here’s the problem: Parents want schools to be the Thought Police when a student’s thoughts escalate into online bullying of their child.

I read several national stories of teens who killed themselves, and schools were cited in all of them for failing to stop the social media tormenting of the kids. There are several high-profile lawsuits pending from parents suing schools after their children suffered online harassment and took their lives.

Schools seem to face an impossible balancing act. Your thoughts?

 

Reader Comments 0

35 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Interesting that the "tolerant" people amongst us are readily willing to allow a GOVERNMENT entity to decide what constitutes "offensive".


"If there is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."  JusticeWilliam J. Brennan, Jr.,Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).


Yes, there are limits to speech.  We have a system for those times when speech crosses the boundary into criminal act (inciting violence).  We have civil remedies for those times when speech denigrates the reputation of another (libel and slander).


There was a time when this speech was acceptable.  Now it is not.  Just as there may come a time when current politically correct speech will become unacceptable.


Be careful of what you wish.....

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@Lee_CPA2 "There was a time when this speech was acceptable." Only to deplorables like yourself...

marshon
marshon

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. In these divisive times, I have no problem with schools teaching kids the consequences of hate.

TruthReallyHurts
TruthReallyHurts

Here's hoping the school system prevails. 

And we have yet another bad commentary on the lack of parenting in our nation. The parents of the four "likers" should have scolded their little brats, taken the suspension and moved on. They are teaching their children that it is OK to be racist/bigoted. 

Erin Holtje
Erin Holtje

I've 'liked' many comment/posts without intent to do so and I'm sure many I've intended liked have offended others. This is silly and a step towards thought policing.

Zain Malik
Zain Malik

So don't like posts that dehumanize people. It's pretty straight-forward.

Erin Holtje
Erin Holtje

Straight forward would imply there's universal acceptance of what's offensive or dehumanizing, so no, not straight forward in the least. It's subjective.

Adam Mercer
Adam Mercer

Yes, that's what we need, a world where we allow people to think that morallity and ethics are subjective. Rape is not subjective.

Erin Holtje
Erin Holtje

No, hence laws punishing the act. Do better, that wasn't an argument, Adam.

Erin Holtje
Erin Holtje

Jessica, I've not treated anyone without respect or integrity, I have the *freedom not to yet choose to. You've chosen to accost me verbally here with no evidence of any wrong doing upon my part, so exactly what moral high ground are you standing upon? And yes, you can call me any name you wish, I will still function just fine. More people need to operate the same way.

Erin Holtje
Erin Holtje

I never said it wasn't. If you'll notice I merely commented on not being pro thought police.

Jessica Conroy
Jessica Conroy

Posting a photo of a black classmate with nooses is universally recognized as dehumanizing. The problem is that some people don't feel that way.

Max Brill
Max Brill

Wtf is wrong with people? There is so much anger & hate out there, or is social media just magnifying it?

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

The best defense my Grandson had against a couple of minority students calling him a cracker ( yes Blacks can be racist ) was his 6ft 4in 210 pound frame and telling them he would give them a even flatter nose than they already had if they did not leave him alone

Kathleen684
Kathleen684

@Infraredguy Your "grandson" should learn that two wrongs don't make a right. You know, turn the other cheek and all that. His making a racist retort is disgusting.

gemmy19
gemmy19

You are mad because your son was called a mild name like "cracker"? You sound like you would love to use the n word because u like the way it rolls so easily off your tongue and "if they can use it, why cant I"? What a disgusting pink pig....

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My younger daughter was blissfully unaware, at first, that a boy who liked her boyfriend was threatening her on social media.  The principal called me in after he had stepped in and reported it to the police.  The boy was expelled from school, and then the police took him to court.  We were not involved at all; the school district acted to protect my daughter, and, in the long run, other students, who saw the response.  He was a pretty messed up kid, and spent time in juvenile detention and getting counseling.


I still feel thankful to that principal for stepping in there.

bu22
bu22

@Wascatlady Its one thing for the originator.  That could be interpreted as a threat.  Its a much bigger stretch for "liking" a post.  And of course the next step is where schools get sued for not finding something on social media that upset another student. 

TeacherToo
TeacherToo

I wish there were clear cut lines between social media and school.  Some people want the schools to do everything, and that's not realistic.  We need clearly defined lines of when schools should intervene.  Personally, I would  prefer to not have any personal devices at school, but parents would be outraged.  Students misuse their personal devices and then get mad when it's taken up...and  parents get even more enraged.  How dare a teacher take a smart/cell phone  from their child!

Furthermore, parents know that students are to have their devices off unless for specific academic use.  However, that doesn't prevent parents from texting their child during the school day, or from a student to text his/her parent from the restroom or elsewhere, while the parent KNOWS the child is breaking  the school rule.


So, where to draw lines?  If something is posted at school, where the student is CLEARLY violating school rules, then said student should be disciplined.   If students respond during school hours, students should be disciplined.

Marilyn Carter
Marilyn Carter

It is a shame this kind of behavior still continues today !!

Intteach
Intteach

So if a student makes a threat to bring a gun to school on his/her private social media account then according to this logic no one should take action either? Since it is free speech? Drawing nooses around athletes' necks in photos is a death threat also. There is a line.

Astropig
Astropig

@Intteach


"So if a student makes a threat to bring a gun to school on his/her private social media account then according to this logic no one should take action either?"


Yes,someone should-The police.They are armed with the power to investigate and prosecute what, in your description above, would probably be found criminal behavior.But...


...Schools should stay out of the business of trying to control speech or thought.Especially speech or thought that emanates from off-school property.There are a lot of things that  are vile,insensitive,crude or bigoted said every day at school,but that does not make them a crime.When school administrators start deciding what constitutes "hate" or any other politically freighted definitions of speech,we're headed for trouble.Political winds blow to and fro,so what is perfectly acceptable today might cost someone their job (or freedom) tomorrow.


Caricature,satire and even plain 'ol having an unpopular opinion should not be subject to review by people that have little accountability for their actions.

Astropig
Astropig

@chill30313 @Astropig @Intteach


It (the threat of lynching) is a matter for police,not schools.Schools do stupid things (See: Zero Tolerance Policies).The cops are not always right,but there are some checks and balances in the justice system that seek to prevent their worst abuses.

bu22
bu22

@Astropig @Intteach I'm going to have to like your post again.  This reminds me of the teacher who got fired for having a picture of her drinking a beer on vacation.  How far do you go?  Would teachers who "liked" the post get fired too?

Irving B Fordham
Irving B Fordham

When a student has a serious or major violation of the school honor code including mishandling school property, the academic institution is within its rights to either suspend or expulsion of a student. If an individual violates state laws including threats and domestic terrorism especially against minor children society has no choice but vigorously prosecute assailants.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

Public school, it's kind of tough to go after them. Only exception might be civil right, inciting racially motivated attacks on fellow students. The only way this has any legs (FYI this doesn't mean I agree with it!) is when someone is actually hurt or killed as a result of (or in connection to) the hate speech.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Again, Racism as Competition, winning at somebody else’s expense based on human differences.Until the genesis root of the problem – competition – is acknowledged and confronted and understood for what it truly is and the behavior it inculcates, so-called racism will persist as a wicked form of competition based on human differences.