(CN) – A Nevada school district did not violate a teenager’s free-speech rights by expelling him for sending an instant message in which he threatened to kill more than 50 people at his school on the anniversary of the Columbine shootings, a federal judge ruled.
While enrolled at Douglas County High School in Carson Valley, Nev., in 2008, L.W. sent instant messages to a friend in which he threatened to shoot up the school and set a record for mass killings.
He bragged that he would kill more people than “that stupid kid from vtech,” referring to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in which 32 people were killed. He aalso wrote: “he didnt do shit and got a record. i bet i could get 50+ people and not one bullet would be wasted.”
In other messages he threatened to shoot a girl’s “boobs off” and named students whom he planned to kill, writing “and ill probly only kill the people i hate?who hate me then a few random to get the record.” He also wrote that he planned to carry out his threats on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.
L.W.’s friends showed the messages to school officials, who questioned the student and had him arrested. After suspending the teen for 10 days, Douglas County later expelled him for another 90, which covered the remainder of the school year. L.W. claimed that he had been joking and never intended to harm anyone.
L.W. and guardian Mark Wynar sued the school district and several officials in Nevada District Court, alleging violations of the minor’s due-process and First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks granted summary judgment to the district on Aug. 10, finding no First Amendment violations because school officials “had a reasonable basis to forecast a material disruption to school activities.”
“In his messages, L.W. invoked the image of the Virginia Tech massacre,” Hicks wrote. “He stated that he had access to guns and ammunition. He wrote about getting ‘the record’ for school shootings and made specific references to girls and the school by name. Further, he had a specific date in mind for carrying out his threats, April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine massacre.”
Officials had no way of knowing that L.W. was joking, “because there is no inference that can be drawn solely from his statements that he was joking or had no intent to carry out the threats,” Hicks added.
Hicks also ruled for the district on L.W.’s due-process claims, finding that “L.W. was given notice of the charges against him and had an opportunity to tell his side of the story.”