NJ Student Sues After Being Banned from Prom Over Tweets

There’s an interesting case in New Jersey that may shed some light on how much power schools have over how students use social media when not on school grounds.

A Sterling High School student, referred to as H.W., has filed suit in Federal Court alleging disability discrimination as well as a First Amendment violation, after receiving punishment from school earlier this year.

The incident began in January of this year, when H.W. was suspended for two days for improper cell phone use in school. After serving the suspension, the student sent out two tweets from home after school hours that are the basis for her follow up punishment, which includes being banned from senior trip, the prom and graduation.

In the tweets in question, H.W. urged other students to “smoke with me before school tomorrow” and called principal Mark Napoleon a “pussy ass bitch”.

The lawsuit alleges that H.W. suffers from Oppositional Defiant Disorder which causes her to have difficulty with authority, and furthermore that the tweets are protected by free speech laws. She is asking that all punishment be reversed, and is looking for fees, damages and an apology.

The school claims that the additional punishment is related to the insulting tweet directed at the principal, but the defendants insist that the offending tweet was the smoking reference, which they claim was interpreted by the school as being a marijuana reference.

We will be watching the outcome of this case with great interest. We think that H.W. acted improperly; she shouldn’t have called out the principal using a vulgarity, or in public forum, and the drug reference is inappropriate for a high school student.

We aren’t sure how far the school’s power should extend in this case, in the event that the tweets did not cause a disturbance at school, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

There is some Federal precedent here:

“In Laycock v. Hermitage School District, 650 F.3d 205 (2011), where a student wrote on MySpace that the principal was an abuser of marijuana, pills and alcohol, the court said, “It would be an unseemly and dangerous precedent to allow the state, in the guise of school authorities, to reach into a child’s home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates school sponsored activities.””

It would be a shame for students to be allowed to publicly abuse school officials with impunity, but as with many such issues, we’d rather see this handled by the parents.


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