Unfriended: Three Indiana Teens Expelled Over Facebook Banter

We have another case of school kids being punished for statements made outside of school on a social media site. I have previously criticized this trend where both students and teachers are being denied free speech rights as schools extend their reach into homes and private lives. In this case, you have three Grade 8 girls from Griffith Middle School on Facebook dishing about how they would love to kill. It is in my view clearly a basis for the girls to be called into the office with their parents. However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has sued a Northern Indiana school over the disciplining of the girls.

The ACLU notes that “[a]t 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 attended Griffith Middle School near Highland in Lake County. They were expelled for violating “a provision of the student handbook dealing with bullying, harassment and intimidation,” the ACLU said in a news release.

The girls, all age 14, were expelled in February.

There is a need for schools to be tough on bullying, as previously discussed. However, we do not need another “zero tolerance” category (and here) that is addressed through absolute and thoughtless acts of discipline.

The case, S.M., et al. v. Griffith Public Schools was filed in the United States District Court Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, under cause number 2:12-cv-00160-JD-APR. Unfortunately, the ACLU has not yet posted the complaint in the case, but we will be following the case closely.

Source: Indy Star and USA Today

56 thoughts on “Unfriended: Three Indiana Teens Expelled Over Facebook Banter”

  1. Here’s more specifics about the comments from the local paper:

    “”When they’re talking about putting someone in a bathtub of acid and lighting someone on fire…my daughter being the last person mentioned, I find nothing funny about that,” Webb said, calling the thread “disturbing.”
    She noted the girls discussed whether it would be better to use a gun or a knife to kill someone, and how to cover up evidence. “I just think that goes a little beyond joking. To me, that is calculated, that has been thought about, that has been planned,” Webb said.
    “We still see examples of students using emoticons like that even in actual cyberbullying cases,” said Justin Patchin, a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “My position is it doesn’t matter if they did use those emoticons…It doesn’t matter if the intent was to joke around…If we look at the content, would we be threatened by it?”
    Griffith school district attorney Rhett Tauber declined to comment.
    “Cyberbullying is the emotional harm, not that they’re going to kill you, but that they’re talking about it even in a joking way,” said Parry Aftab, an attorney and executive director of Wiredsafety.org, a children’s Internet safety group.
    Patchin agreed. “It doesn’t necessarily take an actual threat for the school to get involved in disciplining the students,” he said. “If the target in this case didn’t feel safe to be at school, then the school has the authority to take action,” he added.
    Neither Patchin nor Rose were aware of any previous cases where the use of emoticons was cited, though Aftab said she had encountered the strategy several times. Patchin did cite a 2000 Pennsylvania case in which the state Supreme Court upheld the expulsion of a student who created a website that featured a diagram depicting the decapitation of a teacher despite his insistence that the content was a joke.

    Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2012/04/27/2499207/will-emoticon-defense-disprove.html#storylink=cpy

    Bathtub of acid? Lighting someone on fire? Hiding evidence? The target of the comments took it seriously and was afraid to attend school. All that’s not mitigated by tagging on emoticons to the other participants in my view.

    I’m firmly behind the school on this one.

  2. MetroCowboy:

    “I’m sorry but I can remember saying to my buddys Albert and Richard I’d like to kill that guy…they agreed.”


    You be the judge if this is just spouting off:

    “According to a police report, portions of a Facebook conversation between Munsie, Kennedy Fortier and a fellow student include Girl 1 writing: “Lets kill the girl were talking about right now?”

    Girl 2 types back “IM DOWN. its about time…”

    Later Girl 1 writes: “I wanna kill people.”

    Girl 2 responds, “ii wish uu wouldn’t get caught, cos (expletive), half thee school would be gone by now…”

    Their classmate, 14-year-old Courtney Tinsely, was mentioned in that conversation.

    “I felt really hurt and upset, and I started to cry,” Tinsely said.Regina Webb, Tinsely’s mom, said she doesn’t see how anyone could convey the conversation as a joke.

    “It’s unacceptable,” she said.”

    1. Kids, and adults, often get carried away with their own fantasies when they share them. It’s not a joke as such but it isn’t done with serious intent to carry out the acts, usually. I guess it’s the usually that necessitates intervention but expulsion is way too harsh.

  3. MetroCowboy,

    Did you just figure that out? Why is it the school’s responsibility?

  4. Matt Im not condoning violence and I dont have any answers but if everyone who spouted off about wanting to ring someones neck or worse was to follow thru and do it then it would be a much emptier planet. If kids do these kind of things then their parents need to sit down and have a talk with them about words and how they can hurt and a persons responsibility for what they say.

  5. I’m sorry I’m not perfect like all of you.. I can remember when I was mmm 13 or 14 there was this guy who was a real bastard to me and my friends he tried to make our lives misserable. I’m sorry but I can remember saying to my buddys Albert and Richard I’d like to kill that guy…they agreed. Now we didn’t and since there was no internet or personal computers back then we just used word of mouth…OH and none of us went to prison we are a doctor and a funeral director and a teacher, which we might never have had the chances to become if back then the human condition was like it is today, because people today are hysterics and in my jaundiced view NUTS

    1. These girls at least should be given a little education on legal threats and to keep there mouths (writings) shut. Hopefully they will become well versed on the issues of the case.

  6. skiprob:

    I think counseling and assessment are in order and it may show nothing at all. Just kids fooling around, but threats to kill other students mask other problems like bullying (by or against them) or real emotional issues. Why not read the tea leaves now instead of after a tragedy?

  7. skirob:

    Not sure why this is increasing but I suspect access to technology is one culprit. In Virginia, “threat” is defined as “an avowed present determination or intent to injure presently or in the future. Threats of physical harm need not be directly expressed but may be contained in “veiled statements.” Of course, the seriousness of the person making the threat is relevant to “avowed present determination.” SCOTUS cimed in in Virginia v. Black (2003)(crossburning case) decreeing a threat to “encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” Key word “serious.”
    So, like beauty it may be in the eye of the beholder.

  8. Mespo, Do you think that this type behavior from children is increasing and why? If you think of all the problems in this area in recent years it is interesting that it appears to be getting worse. I seen some articles about the happiness index of countries. Suicide rates etc.

  9. skiprob:

    “At what point does a potential threat from 14 year old girls warrant serious consideration from law enforcement. A lot of questions come to mine.”


    When a threat is made to kill or do serious bodily harm, it becomes a matter of criminal investigation right then. Virginia makes it a felony in some instances. Va. Code Ann. Sec. 8.01-60.

    1. In your opinion in this case, will it come down to “if these girls actually made a threat or not”? I know that it is sometimes a fine line.

  10. @MASeptic : “I’d like to point out that this never would have happened in a private school. They care about money too much to kick two sacks of cash, I mean, “students” out the door.”

    This would also hold true with vouchers. Part of the reason that public schools are so terrible is that the administration doesn’t have to answer to the customer to keep the business open.

    1. Public education was created to accomplish to main things. Increase drop out rates and truency. It has not been sucessfull

  11. I think they all need help! They sound a borderline psychopathic to me. The amount of detail they go into is a little disturbing. Saying omg I am so mad i could kill him is one thing..they go into great detail of how they want to do it and how not to get caught. That takes thought,,,maybe they shouldn’t get punished at all so when they go to high school and have 4 times as many people they can hate and something worse happens everyone can look back and say Oh maybe we should have taken that a little more seriously.

    1. They mear fact that it was brought to the publics attention is going to make these girls feel pretty low if there was some real potential malice involved. This could become a very interesing case. At what point does a potential threat from 14 year old girls warrant serious consideration from law enforcement. A lot of questions come to mine.

    2. Perhaps they could use a bit of psychological counciling instead of getting kicked out of school as a so-called punishment. That’s where the parents come in. These girls appear to need more education not less.

  12. If there is a complaint to be filed it is with the police and not the school. They have no authority over the kids if they are out of school and not using school equiptment or facilities.
    Mespo, I don’t recall any students on my “list”, but there may have been a few teachers! 🙂

  13. Messpo,

    With all due respect: The idea of suspension is sweeping the problem under the rug. And counter-productive to psychological assessment and counseling.

    I have no idea how old you are, but wonder if your world then is like the world today. How much shit did you see happened every time you turned on the TV? Time flies faster now, eras change in 10 years, not 60 as before. There is an explanation, quite quantifiable. But later with that.

    When you get out of school now, you are almost already obselete. The ten–year olds can more digitally than you. Where do you fit in? How long do you have a market value?

    So using old measures just won’t do it anymore. Right now the kids are learning more from the TV, the net, and their friends that from school.
    What will they be sucking in in 10 years?

    And were it not for the American love of sueing, life would be simpler with more spent on the problems, than guarding against suits.
    Is it better in my non-suing world here? Well, it is only the corporate influence and the general complacency that retards progress, not guarding against suits.

    The only death we knew about in 1954 happened when one died of leukemia, and one on a summer job. Gang wars, etc.: NO. And violent entertainments were Superman comics, etc. Talk about sheltered. We were indeed.

    All I write may be trite and obvious, but thanks for the opportunity.

  14. JunctionShamus,

    Damn. In 1953 smoking a cigarette got me expelled for 6 weeks.

    In the same year, winking a broken off chair leg at my geometry lady teacher, to jokingly warn her for ferociously berating me for asking for more info on solving a problem, got me in trouble again.
    It got me at least 6 weeks sitting in the admin office outside the principal’s office. Public village stock, modern style.

    Get a name in the principals office when you are in the second grade, it follows like a sewn-on dunce cap. Letters of recommendation? LOL.
    I’m sure you deserved yours. You were much brighter and enterprising than I.
    But then we were a listless, cowed lot—-except for the one who respected no one. Guess who. And it is so today. Except when I think of it and decide to do so.

    I got a BSEE at NCSU in ’59 at any rate. The dean said in his first speech, “Look to your left and right, One will not be here when it is graduating time.” I was there still.

  15. “From the article: This conversation spanned numerous subjects, from the pain of cutting oneself while shaving to the girls’ friendship, before turning to a discussion of which of their classmates they would kill if they had the chance.”


    Let’s look at the school’s position if the unthinkable happens:

    Girl threatens lives of classmates in a public or semi-public way;
    School learns about the threats but does nothing or next to nothing like calling them to the office for a scolding;
    Classmate is killed or seriously harmed by one making threats;
    School claims it did nothing or next to nothing about it because it was obviously “in jest.”

    You’re on the jury hearing the case of negligence against the school board and the principal. You are told threats are not protected free speech and you lived through Columbine and any number of school shootings.

    How are you coming down on these facts?

    If I’m on the jury the school board/principal loses.

    I think suspensions, psychological assessment, and counseling are warranted but not expulsion. I don’t recall ever discussing killing my classmates with my friends. Call me sheltered.

    1. You have a vivid imagination. How could the school be neglegent, over say the next door neighbor, even it the complaint was logged to someone at the school, whihc is really not the correct place the complaint should hve been logged. It is first and foremost the parents responcibilty, especially when it is posts made in the public domain. Like I said the ACLU don’t generally take a case unless it is a valid constitutional issue and they believe their clients are innocent. I find them to be correct more often than not, even though the are criticed by both the lefties and righties, where as local bureacrats do often overstep their authority.

Comments are closed.