A school in Michigan has decided to discipline students for what they do and say at home, and now is getting sued for overstepping its authority.
The case has been filed in U.S. District Court in Michigan on behalf of four students who summarily were suspended from the Saline High School because of a private snapchat conversation.
The school found out about the offensive language that was used, and took action immediately, even though the conversation had nothing at all to do with the school, according to David Kallman, of Kallman Legal, who is working on behalf of the students and their parents.
The case asks for a declaratory judgment, damages and injunctive relief for the violation of their constitutional rights to due process and free speech.
Two of the students have been returned to classes, but two others have been recommended for expulsion, Kallman reported.
The snapchat occurred on a Sunday evening between friends and acquaintances, he reported. African-American and Caucasian children were using inappropriate and offensive language in a joking manner and in the context of immature banter among friends, Kallman reported.
“The conversation did not occur at the school, at a school event, or on any school equipment. While all the children are embarrassed by their language, it does not justify the school’s rush to judgment and overreaction.”
He said, “This case boils down to a simple question: When a child misbehaves at home, who disciplines – the local public school or the parent? If a child gets stopped for drunk driving on a Saturday night, does the school have the right to expel that student? The answer is obvious. No. The conversation of these children had nothing to do with the school. It has no authority to discipline students for out of school misbehavior.”
He said, “The school is acting is acting outside the scope of its authority, has no legal right to impose the discipline carried out, and has violated our clients’ constitutional rights by their reckless and hasty rush to judgment.”
The students are not named in the public document, but the defendants include the school, the school board, Supt. Scot Graden, Assistant Supt. Steve Laatsch, Principal David Raft, Assistant Principal Joe Palka, Assistant Principal Theresa Stager and others.
The complaint explains, “A foundational core of our Constitutional Republic is that the state cannot punish its citizens for engaging in speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Just as citizens cannot be criminally punished for protected speech, a public school cannot discipline speech that falls within the ambit of the First Amendment.”
The students were sending text messages “from their homes, with their privately owned phones, on a non-school day,” which means the school and its officials “acted outside the scope of their authority and violated plaintiffs’ rights by suspending all four of them and recommending the expulsion of two of them for the expression contained in the text messages.”
Those messages could be described, the complaint states, as “inappropriate and immature.”
However, “It was the parents … who had the right to discipline their children, not the government authorities employed by the school.”
The complaint points out that while students of multiple races were involved in the banter, only white students were suspended.
Police grilled students without notifying them of possible penalties, and the school actually issued a statement to the entire community that the children were guilty of “an act of racism that created harm to all of our students, especially students of color.”
The school charged the students with “hate, prejudice, and racism.”
In fact, it publicly told the community that it would not tolerate “these types of despicable words and actions.”
The school claimed its authority under a provision for policies regarding students who are going to, at, or coming from school.
“Nothing … grants any authority to defendants to police or punish speech or expression that does not occur ‘at school or a school sponsored activity or while en route to or from school or a school sponsored activity,” the complaint states.
Further, teachers at the school used the incident “to condemn” the kids involved, and school officials actually contacted both local and federal agents, at the FBI, to try to get criminal charges filed.
The reality is that while the speech was “immature and inappropriate,” nothing there was a true threat and all such “out-of-school, off-campus speech is protected by the First Amendment.”
The damages included those for “mental anguish, damage to their reputation, and … adverse consequences socially, educationally, and vocationally.”
Officials with the the district declined to respond to a WND request for comment.