We have yet another arrest in a school for an act that would have previously resulted in a reprimand and a parent visit with the principal — or at worst a suspension. Florida eighth-grader Domanik Green was accused of breaking into the computer system at the Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday, Florida to play a prank on a teacher. He changed the background of the teacher’s computer to show two men kissing. For that, he was charged with a felony for computer hacking. He will be tried as an adult. He is fourteen years old.
We have been discussing the trend toward suspending and expelling students (and teachers) for comments that they make on social media (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) This includes arrests for pranks (here and here).
This was hardly a world class, NSA hacking case. Green said that he logged off the computer after trying to do a the test because it didn’t have a camera. He then said “So I logged out of that computer and logged into a differing one and I logged into a teacher’s computer who I didn’t like and tried putting inappropriate pictures onto his computer to annoy him.” He knew that the teacher used his last name as his password.
The initial response would seem to have been appropriate and sufficient punishment: he was suspended for 10 days. However, adults then decided that he also needed to be made a felon. While he can likely be put into a program for first offenders that could wipe his record clean, it still makes no sense to me to criminalize such school pranks.
Why teachers and administrators want to criminalize such conduct is a mystery but the police are showing the same lack of discretion or judgment. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco insisted that the 14-year-old deserves to be arrested and that we are all better off: “Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done.” Right. He might have added a Star Wars theme to the school webpage. Imagine that.