ACLU sues after middle school girls expelled over Facebook comments

The ACLU filed a complaint in the Northern District of Indiana against the Griffith Public School district after it expelled three middle school girls for a lengthy conversation they had on Facebook outside of school hours.  According to the complaint, the conversation “spanned numerous subjects,” beginning with one girl complaining on her Facebook wall about cutting her legs while shaving (#FirstWorldProblems), before turning to which classmates they would kill if given the chance. The comments were littered with the typical cutesy teenage girl sprinklings of emoticons, OMGs, and LOLs, and most of the comments were directed toward the “ugly” girls, a la Mean Girls fashion. The comments were contained to Facebook, and subject and post were not discussed on campus.

Two days later, after another person presented a screen shot to school administrators, the girls were expelled from school for violating student handbook policies on bullying, harassment, and intimidation.  Griffith Public School later informed the girls they were expelled for the remainder of the school year, but would be able to continue to the ninth grade the following year.

The ACLU contends that this action was a violation of the students’ First Amendment Rights, as the comments were “clearly made in jest” and did not constitute a “clear threat.”  The ACLU also states in the complaint that the comments did not disrupt school activities.

Students notoriously have very few rights, and schools generally have had wide latitude to punish activity outside of school.  It will be interesting to see how the case proceeds.

5 Responses to ACLU sues after middle school girls expelled over Facebook comments

  1. Miss Barracuda says:

    What an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, you’ve got the 1st Amendment, which is as close to sacred as a thing can be, IMO. But on the other hand, you’ve got children’s safety in schools which if not properly addressed can absolutely ruin lives considering all of the suicides and shootings prevalent these days stemmed by bullying.
    Arguably, the school may have had a duty to address the issue for the safety of the students (both those affected by the posts as well as those doing the posting), but I’m not sure the long-term expulsions were the right action to actually solve the problem. Perhaps the better method would have been for the school to pursue rehabilitative action, such as counseling and other diversion-program-type measures (comparable to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diversion_program) to educate the “mean girls” and the rest of the student body.
    I saw a piece on a news program a few weeks ago that followed a similar situation where the “bullies” had to go through a counseling and education program and then had to teach what they had learned to the rest of the student body. If something like that doesn’t solve the problem, then perhaps expulsion would be appropriate.

    • AlphaCentauri says:

      I agree that expulsion was the wrong reaction. We’re not talking about Satan’s spawn here. We’re talking about age-appropriate activity for middle school girls. They can be vicious. Part of their development at this age is to find mentors other than their parents who will help them change from dependent children to adults whose actions influence other people. And joking about things that are frightening is normal at any age. They’re beginning to really comprehend death, so there will be black humor.

      Expelling them shows an attitude that children are disposable and that one should deal with problems by getting rid of the child.

    • JCHarkins2 says:

      Agreed. I had a temper and said quite a few things in middle school that should have gotten me expelled, and with sensitive feelings amuck nowadays I might have even gotten arrested on grounds of ‘threatening bodily harm’. I was instead given multiple days in school suspension, seen by the school councilor and an individually recommended child psychologist for an assessment.
      Or maybe the administrators should have actually called the students in and asked them what it was about and explain how it could all be seen as being bully-like, menacing, or a prelude to harm and suicide. There was no need for things to get this far out of hand

  2. Cameron Frye says:

    “…all of the suicides and shootings prevalent these days stemmed by bullying.”
    Are there any statistics that actually back up this prevalence?

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