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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
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Expelled for Facebook Chats Sent From Home

HAMMOND, Ind. (CN) - In a federal complaint that is becoming increasingly common, three eighth-graders claim their school unfairly suspended and expelled them for online conversations they had through Facebook, on their own computers and on their own time.

The three girls and their mothers sued Griffith Public Schools on First Amendment grounds. Unlike some cases, in which schools have been accused of snooping on students' online activities, in this case, one a classmate's mother reported the conversations to the school, according to the complaint.

The girls, all 14, held a lengthy online discussion through the "comments" section of their personal Facebook pages, "after school from their personal computers," the complaint states.

It continues: "This conversation spanned numerous subjects, from the pain of cutting oneself while shaving to the girls' friendship, before turning into a discussion of which of their classmates they would kill if they had the chance. At all times, the conversation was purely in jest and could not have been interpreted seriously, as is evidenced by the girls' repeated use of 'emoticons,' by their use of abbreviations indicative of humor, and by the nature and tone of the conversation. The girls were simply engaged in teenage banter."

In late January, the girls were suspended for 10 days "as a result of this conversation, and they were untimately expelled for the remainer of their eighth-grade year," according to the complaint.

"At no point in this conversation were the girls expressing any actual intentions to inflict harm on any person, nor were they threatening or attempting to intimidate any person. Rather, they were simply engaging in a casual conversation as made in jest, and would not interpret any portion of the conversation - or the conversation as a whole - as threatening or a true threat," the complaint states.

"The conversation did not cause an actual disruption at school, nor was it likely to or foreseeable that it would substantially disrupt the school or the educational environment. All three (3) girls attended school for the entire day after this conversation took place, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred. To their knowledge, the conversation was not even mentioned at school by any person, and it certainly was not mentioned by them."

But on Jan. 26, "after the mother of one of the girls' classmates provided a copy of thei conversation to the principal of Griffith Middle School, the girls were individually called into the office of an administrator of the school. At this time, they were informed that they would receive a 10-day out-of-school suspension for their Facebook comments, with a recommendation that they would be expelled."

The girls and their moms seek damages for constitutional violations and an injunction to permit them to return to school.

They are represented by Gavin Rose, with the ACLU of Indiana, in Indianapolis.

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