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.