A Short and Tweet Message Results in Student's Expulsion

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

A Short and Tweet Message Results in Student's Expulsion

The question “Is that a First Amendment violation?” is certainly reverberating in the industry as of late as word has spread that an Indiana high school administration expelled a high school senior for cursing over Twitter…  wait for it, wait for it… after school from his personal computer.

At first that statement might seem truly preposterous to you. After all, what jurisdiction does a school have to chastise a student for using poor language on a social media site when the student was doing so from the comfort of his/her own home and after school? And the answer should be clear – none.

In what clearly has to be a violation of an individual’s first amendment right to public speech, Garrett High School in Indiana expelled a high school senior for dropping the “F” bomb a few times in a tweet, which has been described as nonthreatening. The tweet was posted at 2:30 a.m. on his personal computer from his house.

The school, however, has a computer system that actively tracks the social media presence of its students and because the student had logged on to his Twitter account at some point in school one day, the system was able to find this tweet and report the teen to administrators.  Just three months shy of graduation, the school expelled Austin Carroll, who is now forced to enroll at an alternate school to receive his diploma.

"I don't think the school or anybody should be looking at [my account]. Because it's my own personal stuff and it's none of their business," Carroll said following the incident.

His mother, Pam Smith, expressed a similar sentiment and also expressed frustration over the fact that her son was expelled as opposed to suspended for a few days or even fined.  “To kick him out of school, his senior year, three months to go, is wrong,” she said.

Does this sound like a multi-million dollar lawsuit to anyone else? I can only imagine the lawyers who will be lining up to represent this kid.

Lawyers aside, I just don’t see how a school could ever find the grounds to expel a kid for cursing on a social media site, in private, after school, unless of course the language was directed at a fellow school community member and embodied a threatening nature. But in this instance, there is simply no way the school had any right to expel a child for expressing how he felt after school hours. What’s next? Administrators expelling a student who texts a few four letter curse words to his friend on the weekend? Or administrators suspending a student who joined a group in Facebook called “I hate homework?”

 In the past few days, the Internet has been abuzz with outcry over the fact that a student could be so closely monitored in the comfort of his own home. And an incident like this raises the question of at what point has a school become too “Big Brother” like?

Perhaps school administrators should keep on doing what they do best – teaching – and leave the parenting and raising to the parents. 

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