Students in group suspended after contents deemed threatening

CALIFORNIA– Police are investigatinghate crime and terrorist threat charges against a middle school student whoposted comments about another student on a group that schoolofficials deemed threatening.

The male student who created the groupand 20 other students who were members of the group were suspended last week fromTewinkle Middle School in Costa Mesa, Calif. The other students, whose names andphotos appeared on the site, completed their two-daysuspensions last week, said Jane Garland, spokeswoman for the Newport-MesaUnified School District.

Garland said the group’s creator isstill on suspension until the school district makes a decision on his possibleexpulsion at a school board meeting next week.

The MySpace group wascreated Jan. 3 and called, ”I hate [girl’s name].” It alsocontained an expletive and an anti-Semetic reference, according to The San Jose Mercury News. One postingasked, ”Who here in the [group name] wants to take a shotgun and blast herin the head over a thousand times?” is a socialnetworking site that allows people to post personal profiles, share music andvideos and maintain online journals. People can search through hundreds ofthousands of groups that members have created on the site, but joining a grouprequires MySpace membership and clicking a ”join”button.

Police are still interviewing almost 30 students who joinedthe group or viewed material on the site, according to Sgt. Marty Carver of theCosta Mesa Police Department.

Carver said the group was discoveredwhen students brought printouts of the site to school, which were then seen by ateacher.

It is unlikely serious charges will be filed against theboy, said Carver, because the shotgun comment on the site was ”more of astatement than athreat.”

Additionally, threat charges require an element ofimmediacy, and the Web site did not come to the attention of authorities until amonth after the comments were posted, he said.

It was reported thatsome parents were upset school administrators suspended their children forviewing the site’s content from home computers.

Garland saidthere was no reason to believe the students accessed the site from school, inpart because is blocked from school computers.

The schoolwas able to discipline the students for their Internet activity at home becausethe students’ primary connection was the middle school, she said.

”The nexus of their getting together is the school, so theyare a part of the problem and integrally involved,” Garland said.”They are all in some way culpable.”

She said the otherstudents were suspended after they viewed the site’s content and lefttheir ”monikers” behind.

”The idea behind any ofthese types of things is that you have to act on the side of studentsafety,” Garland said.

Bob Metz, assistant superintendent forthe Newport-Mesa Unified School District, did not return repeated calls forcomment.

But he told The MercuryNews, ”With what the students can get into using the technology, weare concerned about it. There is so much good, and there is so much that cancause difficulties.”

Metz also told the paper that because thesafety of students was involved, the suspensions wereappropriate.

The school’s disciplinary response to the 20 otherstudents who viewed the group was an ”extreme reaction” and

”overkill,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the CaliforniaFirst Amendment Coalition.

Scheer said he understood why schoolofficials were concerned about the perceived threats on the Web site, but saidthat after they ascertained there was no immediate threat of violence,administrators and police should ”pull back and address thespeech.”

”The best anecdote for hateful speech is notsuppression of that speech,” he said. ”It is an opportunity for morespeech from other members of the community to isolate those kinds of commentsand to demonstrate that they are not embraced by largercommunity.”