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Teens sue school after expulsion for online death threats

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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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