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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
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Bad Idea: Death Threat on Facebook

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A mother sued her son's school district for suspending the boy for calling a teacher a "bitch" who "needs to be shot" on his Facebook page.

Sixteen-year-old Braeden Burge, through his mother Kelly Burge, sued Colton School District 53, alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations.

Colton is an unincorporated community about 40 miles southeast of Portland.

The Burges say it's not fair to suspend Braeden for comments he made on Facebook "from the privacy of his own home, outside of school hours, and while not participating in a school-sponsored activity."

"The district has overreached by suspending Braeden for off-campus speech with no evidence that his speech actually caused or was reasonably likely to cause a material and substantial disruption of on-campus educational activities," the complaint states.

The Burges do not deny that Braeden made the statements. He was an eighth-grader at Colton Middle School when his health teacher, Veronica Bouck, gave him a C, and Braeden's mother grounded him, according to the complaint.

Braeden took to Facebook to express his frustration.

"I wanna start a petition to get mrs. Bouck fired, she's the worst teacher ever," Braeden wrote on Facebook, according to the complaint.

When a friend asked what Bouck had done, Braeden replied "she's just a bitch haha" and added "Ya haha she needs to be shot," according to the complaint.

"I just noticed that every time I've been grounded in middle school it's because of Mrs. Bouck ... I wish she would just get fired haha but I doubt that'll ever happen," Braeden added.

After seeing the comments about Bouck on Facebook, Braeden's mother asked him to delete them, which he did, according to the complaint.

More than a month later, a parent of a Colton Middle School student printed out an image of Braeden's Facebook comments and put it in the principal's mailbox.

Principal Kara Powell met with Braeden and told him he had violated two school policies: against violent threats and harassing staff, then suspended him for three and a half school days, according to the lawsuit.

"Prior to disciplining Braeden on May 29, 2012, Powell did nothing to ascertain whether Braeden's Facebook comments presented a real risk of a material and substantial disruption to the school environment," the complaint states.

"Powell did not ask Braeden if he had access to guns or any experience with guns, she did not speak with the other students who posted comments on Braeden's Facebook wall in response to his comments about Bouck, and she did not investigate whether Braeden had made similar Facebook posts during the six-and-a-half weeks between when he posted the comments about Bouck and when Powell became aware of those comments."

Braeden's Facebook posts did not seriously disrupt classes or negatively affect Bouck, according to the complaint.

Braeden's mother sued the school district in Clackamas County Circuit Court in 2012; it was dismissed "for procedural reasons."

The Burges want Braeden's record expunged.

They are represented by William T. Patton of Lane Powell and Kevin Diaz of the ACLU Foundation of Oregon.

Legal or not, one parent called the school's actions understandable. After every school shooting, police and media inquire whether the young killers posted any signs of the incipient violence on social media.

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