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Should Students Suspended For Online Bullying Be Allowed Back?

Should Students Suspended For Online Bullying Be Allowed Back?

The Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Missouri is appealing a federal judge’s recent decision, which allowed two student bloggers to return to school after being suspended for 180 days over an online blog about their school.

Senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs ruled from the bench on Thursday, March 22, ordering high school juniors and twin brothers Steven and Sean Wilson be returned to school while their First Amendment lawsuit moves forward: the students, through their parents, filed a free speech lawsuit against the school in early March.

Sachs did not provide a written rationale for his ruling, but the Kansas City Star reported Sachs as saying from the bench that the boys’ interest in returning to school outweighed the district’s concern for disruption.

Suspended For Creating Blog With Several Crude Posts

The Wilsons were suspended last year after creating a blog that featured several crude posts about another student and a post with a racial epithet. The boys admit to writing posts on the site about a named female student. One of them referred to her as “the biggest bitch in the whole school.” However, the boys claimed they created the posts at home, on their personal computers, and that the epithet was posted by a third student.

By contrast, the school claims the boys used district computers to make the offensive blog, which disrupted the educational process. According to court documents, the blog was meant to be satirical commentary about life at Lee’s Summit North.

School district attorney Jessica Bernard said the district is appealing Sachs’ ruling and has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the students’ return on hold during the appeal. Bernard filed a motion for stay under seal Thursday, meaning it is not publicly available.

Several Lawsuits Addressing Free Speech Rights Of Students Online

The Wilsons, described as A students, have been attending an alternative school since January. If the appeals court issues a stay, they will remain there. Otherwise, the students can return to Lee’s Summit North High School on April 9.

From The Student Press Law Center:

The case joins a growing number of lawsuits addressing the free speech rights of students online. The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the issue, and lower courts are divided. A recent ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld school discipline of another Missouri student who sent instant messages from his home computer that the court found threatening and disruptive.

The Lee’s Summit case will be the first to decide whether that ruling applies only to threatening speech or to any off-campus speech that could disrupt school. The Wilsons argue there was no substantial disruption of school anyway.

Bullying either in person or online must never be allowed. The Wilsons certainly deserve their punishment.

As for the Wilsons’ parents suing on behalf of their children, I find this an odd, and disconcerting, choice of action. The last thing they should be doing is publicly approving what their children did. Where is the moral guidance necessary in this situation, the explanation to these youngsters that what they did was hurtful and wrong.

Another small, but important, point. Since when does December to April make 180 days?

What do you think? Should these boys be allowed back to their old school?

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76 comments

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9:47PM PDT on May 19, 2012

The most important thing is that these bullies get moral and ethical counseling, since it appears that their parents aren't doing it. Bullying has led to suicide. Teenagers, for all their bravado, are insecure and fragile, so allowing the tormenters to return, would make those affected and the student body, feel as if it's not very important.

7:14PM PDT on Apr 10, 2012

Bullying is NOT a matter of free speech! Those students should NOT be allowed back until they truly understand the wrongness and repent their actions! The scool was right to expell them in the first place!

12:59AM PDT on Apr 7, 2012

Cyber bullying is just as bad as face 2 face bullying. Words have power. They won't break bones, but they break spirits. Do we need more Coumbine style massacres or another story about a teen killing herself after being bullied on Facebook to get the point??

12:48AM PDT on Apr 7, 2012

Using the Internet to Bully has absolutely nothing to so with free speech. Bullying has driven kids to suicide and homicide and schools and parents need to take it more seriously.

10:34PM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

Another note: Principals can't just expel kids who have no other means of getting an education. If the student is poverty level and the district doesn't offer free alternative schooling, the bullies will be back in school doing the same stunts over and over again. It's lunacy.

10:31PM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

My ex is a principal in a public middle school. He is only allowed to suspend kids for so many days each year. Because of the No Child Left Behind law, he has a legal obligation to move the kids on through the system if they are not incarcerated. He said its just a cycle he deals with as part of his job. Online bullies, as awful as they are, are not taken seriously by school administration. It's a crying shame our kids can't be better protected.

8:23PM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

Surely these kids are being told why they are being suspended, and are given guidelines for rehabilitation ?

3:23PM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

Sharon A. how do you do that when someone might do something that is disagreeable?

a bunch of people are aginst hunting. but it is not bullying for some kid to harass a child who's family hunts. Because, "they are deer murderers".
so, should that kid be thrown out of school for tourmenting "bambi killer" or is that just teasing? or is it justifyed?

it's where the idiots wanting to make it legal for religion based homophobia. "I don't believe it is right, so I have the right to call you names"

2:24PM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

The children should be allowed back when they have made the wrong right. There are other ways for students to get an education. The parents could home school them or pay for them to go to a private school. ALL students have the right to feel safe and be respected in the schools.

10:04AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

they cyber bullied but kids need an education. They had a 6 month suspension which should be long enough. If they bully again expel them.

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