Tuesday, March 27, 2012

High School Student Expelled For Tweeting Profanity; Principal Admits School Tracks All Tweets

Mike Masnick

Tinker v. Des Moines is considered a key lawsuit in defining the free speech rights of students. While there have been a few cases that limited the ruling, it's still seen as the key case in establishing that students have First Amendment rights and that schools can't just arbitrarily shut them down.

I'm reminded of all this after hearing that a student, Austin Carroll at Garrett High School in Garrett, Indiana, was expelled from the school for a silly tweet that used the word "fuck" repeatedly.

Supposedly he tweeted something along the lines of "Fuck is one of the fucking words you can fucking put anywhere in a fucking sentence and still fucking makes sense." A little juvenile, but he's in high school. He insists that he tweeted this from home, but the school insisted that it was done at school.

But the details suggest the tweet came at 2:30am when he was definitely not at school.

What's coming out, however, is that the school was apparently spying on how students use Twitter:
The principal at Garrett High School claims their system tracks all the tweets on Twitter when a student logs in, meaning even if he did tweet it from home their system could have recognized it when he logged in again at school.
I'm not entirely sure what they mean here by it "could have recognized it when he logged in again at school," but it seems clear that the school was aggressively monitoring social networking activity, and chose to expel the kid because of his decision to express himself. It sounds like Austin isn't fighting the expulsion, but simply found an alternative school to complete his last few months and get his diploma, but that's pretty ridiculous. I don't see how the school has a legitimate argument for expulsion here as it appears to violate his basic First Amendment rights. Even beyond that, though, it's really pretty shameful what the school is teaching its students. Spying on students and punishing them for expressing themselves gives exactly the wrong kind of message to students.

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