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Teens sue school after expulsion for online death threats

April 26, 2012

The three teenage girls who were expelled from school because of their after-school online activity filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court against the northern Indiana school district. The teens claim the death threats they made on Facebook were made jokingly and their First Amendment rights are being violated.

S.M., J.D. and K.F. were in eighth grade at Griffith Middle School when, in January, they engaged in a conversation on Facebook. S.M. posted a status update about cutting herself while shaving her legs. J.D. and K.F. commented on the status, and eventually the comments turned to the girls joking about whom they would kill and how they would do it if they had the opportunity. The suit says the conversation was made in complete jest, which is evident by the repeated use of “emoticons,” characters that resemble faces, and capitalization intended to represent sarcasm. The suit claims the girls never intended to actually hurt anyone.

A mother of one of the girls' classmates notified the school principal about the conversation. The girls were originally suspended for 10 days and later expelled for violating the portion of the student handbook concerning bullying, harassment and intimidation. The lawsuit doesn’t identify whom the girls discussed killing and if those individuals were students.

The lawsuit alleges the girls’ First Amendment rights were violated by the disciplinary action taken by the school. They want to be able to return to school and have the disciplinary action removed from their records. The plaintiffs also seek damages and costs.

The ACLU of Indiana filed S.M., by her mother and next friend Bonnie Martin-Nolan, et al. v. Griffith Public Schools, No. 2:12-CV-160, in the Hammond Division of the Northern District of Indiana.

 

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