Sophomore suspended for posting photos taken in classroom sues district

MISSOURI — A high school sophomore who was suspended fortaking photos of his teacher during class and posting the pictures online lostthe first round of his lawsuit against the school district Dec. 11, when afederal judge refused to lift the student’s suspension early.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the student, Logan Glover, and hisfather, Jerome. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, argues thatGlover broke no school policy and caused no disruption by taking the photos andposting them on Facebook, and thus that Lafayette High School administrators andthe Rockwood School District violated Glover’s First Amendment rights bypunishing him for his protected expression. Glover was suspended for three daysand permanently removed from his Language Arts class.

Glover took the photos with his digital camera Nov. 20, during his LanguageArts class. The pictures show teacher Jessica Hauser at her desk, looking overpaperwork and talking with other students. Hauser did not notice the picturesbeing taken, but in some of the seven pictures, students smile or give athumbs-up to the camera. Later, Glover used his home computer to post thepictures to his Facebook profile.

“This is sort of like, ‘hey this is my life’ pictures,” Jerome Glover said,noting that “there is nothing about the pictures that anyone should findoffensive.” Logan Glover was not available to comment; he was in school Fridayand scheduled to leave on vacation with his family immediately after school,Jerome Glover said.

On Dec. 6, more than two weeks after Logan Glover took the photos, schoolofficials learned about the pictures and ordered Glover to provide them withcopies. Glover did so and removed the photos from Facebook. On Dec. 7, Gloverand his parents met with Assistant Principal Kirti Mehrotra, who gave Glover aletter notifying him that he was suspended for three days, beginning Dec. 10.The letter listed Glover’s offense as “disruption of school environment.”

But Mark Sableman, the Glovers’ attorney, said students were workingindependently when Glover took his pictures, and thus the photos did not disruptany class lectures or discussions. Sableman noted that Hauser and schoolofficials did not even learn the pictures existed until weeks after they wereposted.

“There was no disruption of the class period at all, much less anysubstantial disruption,” Sableman said.

The Glovers also maintain that, since few people even noticed the picturesbeing taken, Logan Glover is really being punished for posting the picturesonline from home. The lawsuit contends that administrators had no right toregulate expression that took place outside of school and used no schoolresources.

Kim Cranston, the district’s communications director, said the districtwould not comment on the case to the media on the advice of the district’s andthe plaintiffs’ lawyers. But in court filings, the school district argues thatthe pictures disrupted the classroom because some students posed for the cameraand were “off-task and joking around rather than paying attention.” In anaffidavit, Principal John Shaughnessy says there was “considerable discussion ofthe photographs” in several classes once the photos were discovered, resultingin a “loss of classroom instruction time.”

The district also notes that the school discipline policy prohibitsstudents from using their cell phones as cameras during the school day. But thepolicy does not include a blanket prohibition on the use of standalone cameras.The current version of Rockwood’s student handbook only mentions restrictions onstudent photography under the heading of “Sexual Misconduct”; that policy barsstudents from taking photos in changing areas or in situation where people havea reasonable expectation of privacy.

“There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures that we havefound on Facebook” of students and teachers in Lafayette classrooms, JeromeGlover said. “The idea that cameras are somehow banned … is literallypreposterous.”

When the Glovers filed suit, they unsuccessfully asked for a temporaryrestraining order that would have allowed Logan Glover to return to school a dayearly and return to Hauser’s class. Glover, who receives special educationservices, was assigned to Hauser’s class because a special education teacher isassigned to work with that class. The Glovers contend that permanently removingLogan Glover from the class violates his right to receive an adequateeducation.

In justifying Glover’s permanent removal from Hauser’s class, Shaughnessysaid in his affidavit that Hauser was “deeply troubled” by the photos andsubsequently had trouble focusing in class.

“She is very upset and worried over the photographs and believes her trusthas been violated,” Shaughnessy said.

For now, Glover has been assigned to a ninth-grade Language Arts class.Although that class also has a special education teacher, Glover’s father saidthe arrangement is unworkable because “the class content is the class contentthat he had last year” and coordination with the tenth-grade class has beencumbersome.

Sableman, the Glovers’ attorney, said the family might be able to reach asettlement with the district in the next week, while students are on break. ButJerome Glover on Friday said he did not think that was likely.

“I’m not optimistic,” Glover said.

For More Information:

L.G., et al. v. Rockwood School District, et al. No. 4:07-CV-02044-RWS (E.D. Mo. filed Dec. 11, 2007)