Superintendent, police investigate gossip Twitter account about Minn. school

MINNESOTA — Schooladministrators and local police are investigating a Twitter account they saywas created by several students and recent graduates of Worthington High Schoolto gossip about classmates.

The Worthington Daily Globe reported that over 90 tweets had been posted,many of them “sexually explicit, derogatory and simply untrue.”

Superintendent DavidLandgaard was notified about the account by the Daily Globe when the WHSTrojanGossip handle showed up in a newspaper employee’s searchresults for “Worthington.” Landgaard called police, who then contacted Twitterand the page was removed by the end of the day.

“They’ve got a regularpolicy and procedure that they implement. It’s available to anybody that goesto the Twitter site, and they’re the people that should be commended on this,”Flynn said. “They respond to it when you have [a tweet] that is sexuallyexplicit and possibly could result in violence. You don’t know that, but that’swhat bullying usually leads to.”

Detective Sergeant KevinFlynn of the Worthington Police Department that the creators of the accountcould face charges including terroristic threats, harassment and libel. NeitherLandgaard nor Flynn would go into further detail about what the tweets said.

“I’d be more concernedif I was one of those youngsters with a civil suit,” Flynn said. “It takes alot less, as you know, of preponderance of the evidence as opposed to beyond areasonable doubt. I certainly would think that that would be more of a concernthan anything criminal.”

Flynn said theinvestigation is still considered open, and he is waiting to hear from schooladministrators on how they wish to proceed. The school is first working onfinding out who created the page. So far Landgaard said he has a half page listof students that were possibly involved.

“We’ll look at it from aschool’s standpoint as far as it was related to the school,” Landgaard said.“So once we figure that out and determine where things are at, we’ll take alook at it as a school.”

However, a big questionremains about whether the school has the power to punish the students foroff-campus speech, especially speech made when school was out of session.

“Legally speaking, heshouldn’t be able to do anything,” said Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center. “He’s incharge of students to the extent he needs to maintain order in the physicalbuilding. That’s the authority we give to school officials.”

Landgaard defends hisresponsibility to get involved because the tweets used the school district’sname.

Although police may beable to file charges, Goldstein said the students have legal rights at schoolif the superintendent tries to punish them.

“If you think you’regoing to punish students for what they do during the summer, and not get sued,this is the wrong line of work for you,” Goldstein said.

In addition, Landgaardsaid that student athletes involved have a greater responsibility to not bullyothers because they signed a special student conduct form.

“Minnesota High SchoolLeague has a code of conduct for any student athlete that’s involved with anytype of extracurricular,” Landgaard said. “So there is the potential for thisbeing a violation of the code of conduct.”

He said taking part inthe Twitter account as an athlete would violate the code’s policy in regards to“treatment of others.”

Yet, legally, Goldsteindoes not think a contract could be created to dictate this.

“It makes sense to say you can’t go drinking and you can’t do a bunchof drugs and be on the sports team because, as it turns out, drunk people highon meth are really good at football, so that’s like cheating,” Goldstein said.“You couldn’t condition participation in a government benefit on a willingnessto surrender free expression.”

Both Landgaard and Goldstein agree that parents should be involved in student’sactions at home.

“Parents need to becomeinvolved and monitor their children,” Landgaard said. “That’s a huge part ofthis whole thing. Whether it’s school time or not, parents need to keep trackof their kids.”

By contrast, Goldsteinthinks that parents should be the only ones involved in monitoring what theirchildren say at home, not school administrators.

By Nikki McGee, SPLC staff writer