Monday, March 2, 2020

Court orders school to explain punishing students over activities at home



A court in Michigan has ordered a school district to explain why it punished students for legal actions done outside of school time in their own homes.

The order came after lawyers for students at Saline High School in Saline, Michigan, and their parents filed a motion for a restraining order and preliminary injunction seeking to halt the punishment.

The Saline Area Schools district in Saline, Michigan, suspended four students for what it described as an offensive conversation on Snapchat.

The Snapchat occurred on a Sunday evening between friends and acquaintances, said lawyer David Kallman, who is representing the students and their parents. African-American and Caucasian children, he said, were using inappropriate and offensive language in a joking manner and in the context of immature banter among friends.

"The conversation did not occur at the school, at a school event, or on any school equipment," said Kallman. "While all the children are embarrassed by their language, it does not justify the school’s rush to judgment and overreaction."

Two of the suspended students have been allowed to return to school, but they continue to be punished with bans on participating in many school activities.

Kallman argued courts "have ruled that 'while public schools are not run as democracies, neither are they run as Stalinist regimes. Students do have First Amendment rights, and school officials do not have unfettered authority to regulate student speech.'

He said schools "may punish students for lewd speech or profanity used during school, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that schools have no power to punish lewd or profane out-of-school speech."

The lawyer noted the district claims the school was disrupted by the students' speech.

"However, no school should be permitted to manufacture its own, self-described 'disruption' in order to sanction out-of-school speech it may find offensive," he argued. "Defendants cannot simultaneously issue public media statements, hold public meetings on the issue, call its own students 'racist,' and then complain about the 'disruption' the media attention and public interest in the Snapchat has caused."

Kallman explained that the parents have made numerous efforts to resolve the situation and avoid litigation.

"Plaintiffs and their parents initiated multiple conversations with defendants prior to the filing of this lawsuit to resolve this matter and reinstate all the children. Defendants refused," he said. "Plaintiffs waited to file this motion for injunctive relief to give defendants an opportunity to meet with their counsel and reconsider their position. Plaintiffs' counsel met with Defendant Saline Superintendent Graden to make a final effort to have all the children fully reinstated to school. Defendants refused."

The objective of the lawsuit is to lift the school's punishments.

It asks that the students be returned to "school and full school activities" and that the district stops "continuing to improperly punish plaintiffs in violation of their constitutional rights."

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman has ordered the district to answer within a few days.

The students are also asking for a declaratory judgment, damages and injunctive relief for the violation of their constitutional rights to due process and free speech.

Who disciplines?

Kallman said the case "boils down to a simple question: When a child misbehaves at home, who disciplines – the local public school or the parent?"

"If a child gets stopped for drunk driving on a Saturday night, does the school have the right to expel that student? The answer is obvious. No. The conversation of these children had nothing to do with the school. It has no authority to discipline students for out of school misbehavior."

He said the school is "acting is acting outside the scope of its authority, has no legal right to impose the discipline carried out, and has violated our clients’ constitutional rights by their reckless and hasty rush to judgment."

The students are not named in the complaint. The defendants include the school, the school board, Supt. Scot Graden, Assistant Supt. Steve Laatsch, Principal David Raft, Assistant Principal Joe Palka and Assistant Principal Theresa Stager.

The complaint states: "A foundational core of our Constitutional Republic is that the state cannot punish its citizens for engaging in speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Just as citizens cannot be criminally punished for protected speech, a public school cannot discipline speech that falls within the ambit of the First Amendment."

Police grilled students without notifying them of possible penalties, and the school issued a statement to the entire community that the children were guilty of "an act of racism that created harm to all of our students, especially students of color."

The school charged the students with "hate, prejudice, and racism."

District officials declined to respond to a WND request for comment.

The new request to the court explains that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims, and they "will suffer irreparable harm unless the request for relief in granted."

"The government has no legally cognizable interest in suppressing the exercise of constitutional rights," the filing explains. "Accordingly, no harm to defendants would result from granting the requested injunctive relief."

The bottom line is that the district "acted outside the scope of their authority by disciplining plaintiff children for speech that occurred at home over the weekend and was not related to the school in any way."


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