Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

Summary: Three students in the seventh grade have found themselves either suspended or expelled after posting inappropriate comments about their teacher on Facebook.

SHARE:

Two students have been suspended, and one student has been expelled, over negative Facebook postings they made about a teacher. The individuals are in seventh grade at Chapel Hill Middle School, meaning they are either 12 or 13 years old, according to My Fox Atlanta. The children are accused of violating a portion of the school code that is a "level one" offense, the worst possible: "Falsifying, misrepresenting, omitting, or erroneously reporting" allegations of inappropriate behavior by a school employee toward a student, according to AJC.

Alejandra Sosa, an honor roll student, said she regretted posting a Facebook status calling her teacher a pedophile. She has been suspended for 10 days. "I was just expressing myself on Facebook, because like I said I was mad that day because of what he [did]," Sosa said in a statement. "So, I mean I had no intentions of ruining his reputation."

Sosa is currently drafting an apology to her teacher. At the same time though, she said her school principal, Jolene Morris, violated her privacy by ordering her to log into her Facebook account at a school library computer. Morris then reportedly read the offending post and ensuing responses from friends before ordering Sosa to delete the posts. As many as 15 children made two dozen posts about the teacher in the Facebook conversation, but their penalties were not as severe (for example, a one-day suspension from school).

William Lambert, also an honor roll student, had the same feelings as Sosa after he was reprimanded for calling the same teacher a rapist. He has also been suspended. "I shouldn't have done it," Lambert said in a statement. "Because I could have still been at school, like right now, if I never had commented on the post."

Taylor Tindle was expelled for posting that the same teacher is bipolar. The student's mother asked not to be identified but said she believed the school's punishment did not fit the crime and pointed out that her child did not even get a chance to apologize before getting kicked out.

At least two of the students' families plan to hire attorneys. Douglas County School officials said the three students violated the disciplinary code but that they could not comment because the parents plan to fight the disciplinary charges in a school tribunal on March 10, 2011. The students could face even harsher penalties, including expulsion and banishment to a school for children with behavior problems.

The case will be very important in deciding what falls under free speech and what the school can discipline students for. We'll definitely be hearing more about this one as Facebook and other social networks continue to grow in popularity.

While I do agree that what these students said was wrong, I don't believe they should be punished for what they did. They need to be disciplined, sure, but the school should not have a right to get involved. This is a very fine line we're talking about.

Topics: CXO, Collaboration, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

221 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

    I don't think they should have been suspended or expelled.

    However, I think the teacher in question should have sued them and their families for defamation of character and gross false claims.

    The school should not have involvement in the punishment as the incident did not happen on school computers or on school grounds.
    Geuseppi
    • If not the school, who?

      @Geuseppi These kids need to be shown the error of their ways, not only in breaking the school's rules, but to teach them the responsibilities involved in gossip, rumor and slander.
      Yes, they are just kids, but they have to learn somewhere and apparently the parents aren't doing the job.
      Papa_Bill
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @becabill That's why the teacher should sue them back in to the stone ages.

        Then their parents will nail em to the wall for it.

        But the school should not be involved in something that does not happen on their grounds.
        Geuseppi
      • The girl is epic hypcrite: of course, she MEANT to ruin teacher's reputatio

        @becabill: she should have been expelled.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @becabill Jesus christ are you guys serious? Did the 1st amendment get thrown out when i wasn't look or something? What the hell happened to our right to free speech. These kids as well as you or I have our right to speak our minds. A school should be teaching that, not expelling kids for exercising it. Its not like she blasted it to the world, it was on their PRIVATE facebooks. So whats next? When someone writes something in their private journals are we going to arrest them? My god what is this country coming to. I served in the Army for 8 years to protect citizens basic rights. I feel like it was completely in vain and I wasted my time and my leg when it was shot in Iraq.
        topgun966
        • Iraq

          ... You WERE wasting your time in Iraq, and the government couldn't care less about that fact.

          -vet
          Teila Day
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @topgun966
        "Private Facebook" is a contradiction in terms. Children need to be taught that. They also need to be taught that slandering someone ? even in private ? is a serious offense.

        The cases of these students were handled poorly in several ways (mostly the school overreaching their authority), but discipline of some kind was definitely called for.
        jaqrabbit
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @becabill I believe it WAS in their private facebook.. The principal forced her to log into her private account and show the facebook posts. These were in a private forum on facebook, they didn't have the accounts set to be open to the public. That is definitely a fine line to walk. Caution should be exercised when limiting free speech, no matter how vile the posts were.
        condelirios
        • @condelirios

          While they shouldn't have forced the child to log in on her account; Facebook IS a PUBLIC site. While students have freedom of speech there are also rules in the handbook stating disciplinary actions for certain things. The child was PUBLICLY defaming this teacher. That is not okay.
          Sweetlal08
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        topgun966 --

        First, thank you for your military service.

        Second, I disagree that these students have the right to say anything they want, free of consequence, regardless of whether the venue is Facebook, school hallways, or the mall.

        Slander and/or defamation of character have legal ramifications for adults ... holding people accountable for false and damaging statements is NOT a violation of anyone's First Amendment rights.

        To let these kids off with a slap on the wrist -- after making the ugliest and most devastating accusations anyone could level against [i]anyone[/i], let alone a teacher -- would effectively condone such behavior.

        We can debate whether or not expulsion was an appropriate punishment, especially if the kids involved caused no prior trouble, but they most certainly needed to learn that their words have meaning and consequences.
        Churlish
      • Free Speech

        @becabill There is no such thing as completely free speech (see: fire in a crowded theatre). Slander and defamation are just two examples of non-free speech (correctly, IMNSHO)
        brister@...
      • A right to defamatory speech

        @brister

        Just a quick clarification. Unlike yelling "fire", one does have a right to engage in defamatory speech or Facebook postings without the risk of government intervention or criminal action. However, it may very well give rise to civil action. I'm not sure that the school's actions will stand up in court, and don't know if they should. The school was likely acting as an agent of the government and therefore may have inappropriately overstepped its bounds.

        However, absent evidence that the teacher was in fact a pedophile or a rapist, it appears obvious that there is plenty of room for civil action. Merely spreading a rumor among friends "in private" does not shield one from defamation liability in most states, particularly if it is not a few people who do not interact or know the teacher, but, as is often the case on Facebook, dozens or hundreds of people within the teachers workplace and community. It would seem patently obvious that, even if the child did not realize the gravity at the time, he/she was trying to inflict damage on the teacher, and likely succeeded.

        That being said, I'm not sure financially ruining a family over this is wise. The children should help mitigate the damage they have caused, and should be "punished" in a reasonable manner, but it is unlikely that the damage to the teacher at this stage is irreparable, and they should all live and learn from it.
        Mr. Copro Encephalic to You
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @topgun966 Falsely accusing someone of a crime isn't free speech.
        I12BPhil
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @becabill ... Well, in reality the school WAS irrevocably involved because the libel was against one of its employees, all of whom are a reflection on the school. They might have been smart kids in school but they were very, very ignorant of facts of life; they all should have not only known better but should have realized there would be consequences. Where are their guardians? Never mind, I suspect I know the answer to that last question so it's fully rhetorical.
        tom@...
        • Ridiculous

          If I call someone a child killer and they happen to be in the military, the government doesn't have a case against me. The school doesn't have a dog in the fight. If you bully a Walmart worker by calling him/her trashy good for nuth'n traitor to American values, that doesn't give WalMart a case against you.
          Teila Day
    • Ghandi would say your response is ridiculous

      @Geuseppi
      Lawyers make every argument adversarial. This is unethical and divides people whereas they should learn to live better with each other.

      Children often talk in terms like this about teachers, it's normal. What isn't normal is for the teacher to overhear it (or, if they do, they have the nous to develop bad hearing). This is the same for management in an organization. The only thing here is that the kids didn't figure any adults would intrude on their personal conversation.

      The school and the teachers have been ill advised here, someone could have quitely taken the kids to one side, explained the public nature of the chat, and helped them make it hidden or deleted. (enforce privacy).

      This whole case is ridiculous. Kids are kids, they don't always know how to behave, they make mistakes. The adults in the situation were clearly not mature enough in their response. Adversarial relationship no, should very rarely have anything to do with school/kids.
      stevey_d
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @stevey_d "someone could have quitely taken the kids to one side, explained the public nature of the chat, and helped them make it hidden or deleted. (enforce privacy)."

        How dense are you to not realize the unboundingly destructive nature of the accusation of pedophilia, and the lasting impact it will have on his reputation?
        Media Whore
      • media whore - your ad hominem attack on my intelligence = hypocrisy

        @Media Whore:
        media whore - your ad hominem attack on my intelligence = hypocrisy

        And the other bit of hypocrisy is your tag "Media Whore".
        Kids talk about "fraping" when a friend hacks their facebook. The article didn't report the use of the word paedophile it said "rapist". As frapist is common terminology amongst kids, rapist isn't particularly bad. But then people like you are publicly using indecent terminology all the time, what the hell are the kids supposed to do?
        You are demonstrably by your own posts a hypocrite.
        stevey_d
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @stevey_d: I agree with you that Kids are Kids and that the reaction seems exaggerated. However, I think the reason the reaction is so string, is that the teachers' lives can be ruined just by such accusations alone. What kids say to each other is one thing, but what they put in writing is something that can be used against the teacher and therefore has to be dealt with with the same harshness and seriousness.

        I think the solution lies in reasonableness on all sides, but until that is really the case, you have to be strict about untrue accusations of that nature.
        davidsarmstrong
      • RE: Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

        @stevey_d: I agree with you that Kids are Kids and that the reaction seems exaggerated. However, I think the reason the reaction is so strong, is that the teachers' lives can be ruined just by such accusations alone. What kids say to each other is one thing, but what they put in writing is something that can be used against the teacher and therefore has to be dealt with with the same harshness and seriousness.<br><br>I think the solution lies in reasonableness on all sides, but until that is really the case, you have to be strict about untrue accusations of that nature.
        davidsarmstrong