South Carolina student challenges suspension for off-campus Twitter posting

SOUTH CAROLINA—A former student at North Charleston’s School of the Arts has filed a lawsuit against her school district for violating her due process rights while determining her punishment for a tweet she posted about her classmate.
Louis Martin, an associate superintendent for the district, is also named as a defendant in the suit.
Dwayne Green, the attorney representing Ashley Patrick and her mother, said the district  “disregarded their own process, trying to force a certain outcome.”
According to a report by The Post and Courier, the tweet stated, ““If Imani makes one more got damn remark in Roger’s class tomorrow … (expletive) will drop” and was accompanied by “a link to a picture of a young white girl squeezing her eyes shut and crossing her fingers.” The Post and Courier reports that the photo said, “I wish a nigga would.” That phrase comes from a Kanye West song called “Good Life.”
The lawsuit, filed last week in Charleston County Circuit Court, alleges that Martin and the school district handled Patrick’s disciplinary case in an irregular way that violated her right to due process. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires government agencies to provide a fair and reasonable opportunity for people being deprived of government benefits, including suspension from school, to defend themselves.
The lawsuit states that the district’s Office of Student Placement looked into Patrick’s tweet and determined that she had committed what the district calls a “Level Three intimidation offense.”
“The administration’s determination that it constituted a Level Three offense was the combination of what was perceived to be a genuine threat exacerbated by the racially inflammatory language,” said John Emerson, general counsel for the Charleston County School District.
Patrick’s previously assigned three-day suspension was lengthened to five, but actually lasted 13 days because administrators were still deliberating taking further action, the lawsuit states.
When the Charleston County School District recommended Patrick be placed at an alternative school, Patrick appealed to the District Four Constituent School Board for North Charleston. That board determined that Patrick should not be moved to the alternative school, and instead “placed her on ‘strict board probation,’” and assigned her 20 hours of community service, according to the lawsuit.
School administrators then appealed that decision to the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees. According to the lawsuit, that board would have to motion to hear the appeal, and six members would have to vote in order to overturn the Constituent Board’s decision. The lawsuit states that  “neither…occurred” and only five members were present to vote.
But Emerson said the provision the lawsuit cited “is not the provision of our code of conduct or policy through which we pursued the appeal.” 
The Charleston County School District Board upheld the Constituent Board’s decision but added a punishment of a “500-word essay on racism and social media,” according to the lawsuit.
Green said he has “information that because of who the victim was and because of the race of the individuals, this case was treated a lot more severely than other violations under the student code of conduct.”
The classmate Patrick tweeted about is the “daughter of a high-level school administrator,” Green said. Emerson said that fact had “nothing to do with” the severity of Patrick’s punishment.
Green said Patrick and her family hope to get her record expunged and prevent any other student from going through such a situation. 
“It’s not fair and it should not happen again, and if it’s not corrected here, it will happen again,” Green said.
Emerson said he “expect[s] to see the lawsuit dismissed and the decision of the board carried out.”
By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.