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.
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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