HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) - A high school unconstitutionally suspended a freshman for a harmless comment he wrote at home on his Facebook page, the boy and his family claim in court.
R.L., a 15-year-old from Manchester, Pa., and his parents, Jill and Michael Lordan, sued Central York School District, its Superintendent Michael Snell and Central York High School assistant principal Jeffrey Hamme, in Federal Court.
The Lordans say the defendants used "unconstitutionally vague rules as a basis for discipline" and exceeded their authority by punishing the boy for conduct that was off-grounds and out-of-school.
"R.L. had no history of discipline prior to the events described in this action," the complaint states.
It continues: "On October 23, 2013, as a result of a bomb threat, the high school was evacuated at approximately 9:30 a.m. and students, including R.L., were
dismissed and sent home at approximately 11:30 a.m.
"Following the evacuation, while away from school property, using a personal machine, R.L. published a post on his Facebook page which read: 'Plot
twist: They don't find the bomb and it goes off tomorrow.' or 'Plot twist: Bomb
not found. Goes off tomorrow.'
The parents add: "The facts of this case indicate that R.L's post caused no further disruption to the district or the educational process than it was experiencing already as a result of a legitimate bomb threat, unrelated to R.L."
They say that the "post was an expression of R.L.'s anxiety regarding the bomb threat, and a misplaced attempt at humor. The post did not represent a true threat or obscenity as those terms are defined. R.L.'s use of the term 'plot twist' would have been recognized as sarcasm by R.L.'s peers, as R.L. uses the term regularly in his vernacular to signify sarcasm and irony."
R.L. says he removed the post from his Facebook page "when he learned that it could be misinterpreted, but before he was aware that the district would use the post as the basis for disciplinary action against him. As a result, the plaintiffs do not have a record of the precise language used in the post."
The Lordans say the defendants were "aware of R.L.'s use of the term 'plot twist' to signify sarcasm, as he had used it in a post on his Twitter account during an emergency drill at the high school. The district had taken note of R.L.'s 'Tweet' during the earlier intruder drill, but never discussed the matter with R.L. or his parents until after his October 23, 2013 Facebook post."
Though the Facebook post "was not materially disruptive to the school environment or a direct threat to anyone," the school asked R.L.'s father to meet with Superintendent Snell at the high school football game the next evening, and to bring his son, according to the complaint.
There, R.L. says, he "acknowledged having authored the post, and agreed, in retrospect, that it had been an ill-advised publication under the circumstances."
Snell then said the boy would be suspended for 10 days, despite failing to "identify any particular district policy or rule that R.L. was alleged to have violated," the family says.