Four California Students Sue After Being Suspended For “Liking” Postings on Instragram

225px-Instagram_logoThere is an important lawsuit that has been filed in California after four high school students were suspended for simply “liking” Instagram posts deemed racist.  The lawsuit could force reconsideration of the erosion of free speech rights for students, including the widening scope of discipline for student speech outside of schools.  School officials now believe that they have full license to punish students if their personal views outside of school do not conform with accepted values. This case did have troubling aspects that raised legitimate concerns (though these students were not the author of the posting).  The question is one of authority to regulate speech outside of schools if they do not involve criminal threats.

I have previously written about the increasing monitoring and discipline of teachers for conduct in their private lives. We have seen teachers face discipline over social media pictures holding a weapon. Even a picture of a teacher holding a glass of a drink is enough to trigger discipline. We have seen a steady erosion of the free speech rights of students in the last decade. The Supreme Court accelerated that trend in its Morse decision. Former JDHS Principal Deb Morse suspended a student in 2002 during the Olympic Torch Relay for holding up a 14-foot banner across from the high school that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” The case ultimately led to the Supreme Court which ruled in Morse v. Frederick ruling in 2007 for the Board — a decision that I strongly disagreed with and one that has encouraged over-reaching by school officials into protected areas.  Even  cheerleaders are expected to conform their free speech to accept positions or risk removal from their teams.

In this case, the students — three of whom are Asian — were suspended after school officials at Albany High School in the San Francisco Bay Area learned that they “liked” or briefly commented on Instagram posts that included disturbing images.  There are different accounts of what the images showed.  One image reportedly showed  an image of a black doll juxtaposed with a KKK member, a torch and a noose.  Other images included photographs of specific students at the school. The posting also included jokes about students’ weight and looks.  The school insisted that it was merely trying to provide “an inclusive and respectful learning environment for all of our students.”  Those are disgusting images and I agree with the school’s concern.  However, there remains the question of the rights of students to express their views in their private lives.  Students have a right to hold obnoxious views.  I do not know if these students are racist or the specific images involved, but, even if they were racists, there would still be the question of why school officials are policing and punishing viewpoints out of school.

These were private accounts of the students unconnected to the school.  Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that the school ordered an “atonement” exercise held after the return of the suspended students.  This included 15 students including the four plaintiffs who were allegedly  “lined up in full view” of the student body and “screamed at.”  Two of the students were allegedly assaulted on their way out of the exercise.

I do not question the motivations in this case. I do think that it is a serious matter any student or staff member is shown with a noose or threatening image, as some accounts allege.  I can understand calling the students into the school to raise the matter with them and their parents.  I can also understand an investigation into the existence of any threat to a staff member or student.  However, I am still uncomfortable with the notion that school officials are now authorized to regulate and punish speech outside of school.  If there is not a criminal threat, I fail to see the basis for that authority.

I also have serious concerns over the atonement exercise if the allegations are true. I cannot imagine a more dangerous practice if school officials isolated students to some “atonement exercise” before the whole student body.

In the end, I tend to resolve such questions along free speech lines.  This is no frivolous lawsuit, though I worry that courts will further erode free speech by blindly yielding to the expanding scope of authority of school officials over private speech of students.


What do you think?

107 thoughts on “Four California Students Sue After Being Suspended For “Liking” Postings on Instragram”

  1. Anybody who thinks President Trump wants to get rid of the 1st Amendment isn’t very bright. A totally stupid comment. Unfortunately, someone will read your comment and tell someone else.

    President Trump was elected and will serve at a minimum to January 20, 2021, unless re elected. Millions of us suffered the last eight years. But we were respectful of the office and its then inhabitant. There’s a pact Americans are governed by, the Constitution. When speaking about President Trump, both words are a sign of the respect held for the office.

  2. Why not just put the kids in stocks and let the other kids throw garbage at them? That’s how barbarians once did it.

    Sixteen years ago I was enjoying my substitute teaching gig enough to think about going back to school for a teaching certificate. Unfortunately, I was present the day they decided to do a random lock-down of the school and have the cop come in, with drug dogs and check each locker and drag the dogs through classrooms. I never went back.

    1. That wasn’t done by ‘barbarians’, but by 18th century Americans, among others. Corporal punishment is characteristic of societies without prisons. It’s not necessarily more brutal than putting them in state pens to be buggered.

      That aside, your point is misplaced. The police have the responsibility to enforce the law in schools and out of schools. School officials have no proper jurisdiction over students’ manners when those students are off school grounds.

  3. So basically a bunch of racist kids got upset because they were subjected to the same type of behavior they enjoyed subjecting others to. Cry me a river. Their posts may well have taken place off of school property, but they were about other students at the school and they became a legitimate concern for the school when they were brought to the attention of a teacher or administrator.

    Yes, even hateful speech is protected unless it is calculated to cause harm. I’d say pictures of nooses are intended to convey approval, if not threats, of racial violence.

    Seemingly every month we hear about a student who commits suicide because of hateful attacks by other students on private social media networks. When those suicides happen, people often attack the schools for not having stopped the bullying.

    There is no bright line here, despite what many commentors seem to think. Frankly, I don’t feel ANY sympathy for the racist kids who thought it amusing to denigrate other people because of race. It doesn’t matter a toss if they were Asian.

    1. So basically a bunch of racist kids got upset because they were subjected to the same type of behavior they enjoyed subjecting others to. Cry me a river. Their posts may well have taken place off of school property, but they were about other students at the school and they became a legitimate concern for the school when they were brought to the attention of a teacher or administrator.

      They didn’t subject anyone to anything remotely comparable and it is not the business of school districts to be policing the world at all, much less policing it for the offense of contradicting the school administrator’s social ideology.

      Whenever progressives open their mouths these days they reveal two things: (1) the inability to think analogically in any reliable way and (2) naked stupid aggression.

      1. Exactly what school social ideology did the racist kids contravene? That they should treat others with courtesy and respect? I thought conservatives wanted schools to teach such values.

        1. This isn’t that difficult, RTB. School administrators put up with adolescent grossness as a matter of course, sometimes because they just don’t care and sometimes because it’s not possible and/or not prudent to microregulate interpresonal interactions between students. In this incident, they’re trying to seize general police powers to punish students for racial insults. Racial insults are just insults, and, without a doubt, had the colors been reversed, these insults would have been ignored as well.

          1. A noose is not just a racial insult. It’s a threat. And almost every school has policies against bullying, which certainly include the types of racial insults you’re trying to dismiss. Bullying that takes place online has been the cause of many teen suicides. Indeed, that’s cyber bullying is a huge problem and schools have been sued for failing to take action against cyber bullying of the type you’re so determined to trivialize.

            There is a huge difference between adolescent grossness and cruel attacks intended to dehumanize their victims. These ignorant kids weren’t prosecuted for Christ sake. They were publicly shamed for their behavior. As well they should have been Kudos to their school.

    2. RTB – it would be interesting to see who the real bullies were. The likers or those in the photos. This could just be a reaction by victims of bullying. Whatever, the punishment does not fit the crime.

      1. So the girl’s basketball coach was bullying these bigoted kids? Sounds like you’re fabricating a story to justify the racist posts. Now why would you do that unless you were more sympathetic to the racists than their victims. As far as I’m concerned being publicly shamed for denigrating other students is the perfect punishment.

        1. So the girl’s basketball coach was bullying these bigoted kids? S

          It’s difficult to tell whether you’re playing games or being stupid at this point.

          1. The story said that one of the pictures featured the coach of the girl’s basketball team alongside a picture of an ape. Somehow, you want that to be because the coach caused it. Sounds like making excuses for abhorant behavior to me. PC Police indeed. This hasn’t a thing to do with liberalism and everything to do with teaching kids that everyone deserves to be treated with decency. If that offends you, then be offended.

            1. RTB – the basketball coach of my high school set up hazing drills for his freshman. He also physically threatened me on a public street. And P.E. coaches are sadistic by nature.

              1. I have no fond memories of PE in high school. As a result i opted for cross country in the fall and one mile event in the Spring. But when I went in the Army I really started enjoying the regimen and even home on leave did the two mile run every morning and walked at least five miles every day. Now in my 70’s the habit holds even though it takes a bit longer and I go shopping with a 40 liter rucksack and regularly pack 30 to as much as 50 kilos into it but high school was after all where the failed to make it in the pros athletes go to make a living screwing up everyone else’s dreams and aspirations and before becoming principals etc.

                Paul Here’s something I dont see in this blog or any other NOR in the regular news.

                1. New post on Refugee Resettlement Watch

                  Can we call Minnesota Somali Measles outbreak an epidemic yet?
                  by Ann Corcoran

                  Michael Patrick Leahy at Breitbart has been doing great work digging in to the Minnesota Somali measles outbreak which we first reported here on April 20th.

                  Health officials in Minnesota predict it is going to get worse before it gets better and you can bet it is costing the state taxpayers a bundle to track and treat.

                  Theres a lot more than this including the TRUE amoiunt of immigrants allowed in since Jan 20th and other good tidbits and in detail with sources and resources. You and others might want to check it out and comment….overall or in particular.

                  Those who do not use things like facts and sources of course can just skip it. It will be of not interest.

              2. I’ve known blowhard coaches and rude coaches. I’ve never known a sadistic one. Not everyone’s a good fit for secondary school team sports or for the type of people drawn to coaching for a living. Ideally, schools would have more options for more solitary pursuits like weight-training and cross-country.

                1. dss – the weight room is for the athletes. Real students take P.E. where they are physically punished for one or two semesters, depending on the state.

        2. The PC police have broken new ground. Facebook, Instagram, and others, may see their market shrink. Kids will use them (the “it won’t happen to me” philosophy). This is an example of how deeply seeded teachers are pushing your kids to their liberalism. Hurry up Betsy Voss! Start tomorrow! Our children need to enjoy their time. Being an adult goes on forever! I can’t imagine my doing things today’s youth take for granted. Americans don’t give up easily. Parents, talk to them from their first day in K -12. If you hear something strange, go to school tomorrow and ask what’s going on. Keep questioning throughout their education. It’s your job and too many are slacking. This is the most important job you will ever have. Go for an “A”!

    3. I understand your feelz; I really do. You rilly want the baddies to get in twouble. That’s fine, except for one thing:

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      (Applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment, dontcha know)

        1. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that speech calculated to cause harm or threaten violence is not protected by the first amendment. Courts have also repeatedly held that using a noose, especially when directed at black Americans can be taken as a threat or encouragement of racial violence.

          Finally, courts have also repeatedly held that schools do have jurisdiction to punish behavior that takes place off of school grounds if it can result in disruption at the school.

          1. RTB – the court has never said the student conduct was under the prevue of the school after the student was home. Portal to portal is the judgment. I used to tell students that regularly to keep them out of trouble. SC has not had a case since then.

          2. “[C]ourts have also repeatedly held that schools do have jurisdiction to punish behavior that takes place off of school grounds if it can result in disruption at the school.”

            I didn’t know this. Cite?

  4. I’m 60 years old and I have never been so frightened for my country as I am now. The Soviets were no match for those who destroying the foundation of our society from within, IMO. And, as the good professional points out, the courts are aiders and abettors in this folly.

    1. I’m 8 years old than you and feel the same way. America has been destroyed by the 8 years of Obama. Want proof? Look at the Judges he appointed and the actions that they are now taking…hide the ILLEGAL Aliens from prosecution, let out thousands of criminals and LIE about If we like our doctor, if we like our health care plan. Almost a decade of Democrat LIES along with a so called “Social” Media has brought about this Fall of the American people. You and I will have lived through the very best of American history and I won’t mind checking out when the time comes.

      1. was Obama also behind the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 attacks–in your world? Asking for a friend who’s interested in alternative realities.

        This is to elise

    2. What we are witnessing here is another “Cultural Revolution”, with the part of the Red Guard once again played by students and the role of Mao’s communists played by so called “educators”; truly prog/statist/leftist indoctrinators who have had far too much unchecked access to our children.

  5. Students there should all wear black armbands to school. Say nothing. Point fingers at the school officials who did this travesty of justice. Parents should show up with loudspeakers and blast these idiots at the next school board meeting.

    1. That is very appealing…. the public shaming and that students who commented or “liked” the postings were attacked physically is very disturbing.

  6. What sort of oath to authenticity of identity does one have when one joins Instagram?
    Just like the commenters here, who is really responsible for their ideas they post like they are, say their federal income taxes.
    We need to teach editing not tolerance.

Comments are closed.

Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks