Ind. high school students facing expulsion for Twitter accounts

INDIANA —Students who made three fake Twitter accounts impersonating their principal,wrestling and basketball coach are facing suspension and possible expulsion from Lawrence North HighSchool.

A group of offended students and basketball coach JackKeefer brought the Twitter accounts to the attention of principal BrettCrousore last week. According to the IndianapolisStar, tweets from the accounts were sexually and racially charged. One ofthem read, “I love it when girls wear those black yoga pants,” according to theStar.

Of the four students involved, two students used schoolequipment during class to create the fake accounts, district spokeswoman SharonSmith said.

One student created an account outside of class. Anotherstudent is outside of the Lawrence Township school district. It is up to thatstudent’s district to rule on the appropriate action, Smith said.

The three students attending school in Lawrence Township arebeing suspended, Smith said. Two who used school equipment to produce theaccounts are being recommended for expulsion. The other student who created anaccount at home is being suspended on the charge of cyberbullying, Smith said.

“The students used school property to generate the Twitteraccounts and as a result they violated the Acceptable Use Policy,” Smith said.

Crousore declined to comment on the disciplined students orthe bullying charges. According to the bullying policy available on thedistrict’s website, bullying is by a student against another student withintent to harm. Crousore declined comment on whether another of the tweets wereabout other students.

The district’s computer use policy states that technology isnot to be used for “harmful matter.”

Harmful matter is described as any action or informationthat is not enhancing the scholastic experience, including using the district’sInternet access for anything “other than educational purposes.”

Crousore said the policy is in every student handbook.

“Teachers monitor technology use in the classroom,” Crousoresaid. “We have a technology person that can link into any computer that isbeing used at our school at any time. The kids logged on through one class andcreated a Twitter account and then re-accessed the account. After that, mostwas done through their phones.”

A statement issued to families and students said LawrenceNorth monitors the use of technology in school through the use of filters andfirewalls.

Filters at the school don’t block Twitter because it’s notsupposed to be blocked, Crousore said.

“We use Twitter for other means. I tweet scholarships, ourcounselors send information and so do our teachers,” Crousore said. “It’sanother way to communicate with our students and our families so people cankeep track of the positive things that are taking place in our schools.”

If the disciplined students choose to file suit, KennethFalk, legal director for the ACLU in Indiana, said a minimum requirement fordiscipline would be that the accounts were disruptive.

“The law is unclear as to how to deal with out-of-schoolactivity that enters the school through electronic media,” Falk said. “Thebasic rules from Tinker back in thelate ‘60s is that students have a First Amendment right except to the extentthat what they engage in is disruptive to the educational environment…. Thequestion is, what standards should apply?”

Tinker v. Des Moines,the U.S. Supreme Court case referenced by Falk, went in favor of students whowere suspended for wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The caseestablished that school officials may not punish student speech unless it isdisruptive to normal school activities or invades the rights of others.

Falk said the courts are struggling with out-of-schoolsocial media activity that affects school districts, like Lawrence North’s fakeTwitter accounts.

Falk sued another Indiana district after several studentswere punished for suggestive photos they posted on Facebook outside of school.In August, a federal judge sided with the students, but has not yet decided howmuch the school district will have to pay in damages.