Students in group suspended after contents deemed threatening

CALIFORNIA -- Police are investigating hate crime and terrorist threat charges against a middle school student who posted comments about another student on a group that school officials deemed threatening.

The male student who created the group and 20 other students who were members of the group were suspended last week from Tewinkle Middle School in Costa Mesa, Calif. The other students, whose names and photos appeared on the site, completed their two-day suspensions last week, said Jane Garland, spokeswoman for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Garland said the group's creator is still on suspension until the school district makes a decision on his possible expulsion at a school board meeting next week.

The MySpace group was created Jan. 3 and called, ''I hate [girl's name].'' It also contained an expletive and an anti-Semetic reference, according to The San Jose Mercury News. One posting asked, ''Who here in the [group name] wants to take a shotgun and blast her in the head over a thousand times?'' is a social networking site that allows people to post personal profiles, share music and videos and maintain online journals. People can search through hundreds of thousands of groups that members have created on the site, but joining a group requires MySpace membership and clicking a ''join'' button.

Police are still interviewing almost 30 students who joined the group or viewed material on the site, according to Sgt. Marty Carver of the Costa Mesa Police Department.

Carver said the group was discovered when students brought printouts of the site to school, which were then seen by a teacher.

It is unlikely serious charges will be filed against the boy, said Carver, because the shotgun comment on the site was ''more of a statement than a threat.''

Additionally, threat charges require an element of immediacy, and the Web site did not come to the attention of authorities until a month after the comments were posted, he said.

It was reported that some parents were upset school administrators suspended their children for viewing the site's content from home computers.

Garland said there was no reason to believe the students accessed the site from school, in part because is blocked from school computers.

The school was able to discipline the students for their Internet activity at home because the students' primary connection was the middle school, she said.

''The nexus of their getting together is the school, so they are a part of the problem and integrally involved,'' Garland said. ''They are all in some way culpable.''

She said the other students were suspended after they viewed the site's content and left their ''monikers'' behind.

''The idea behind any of these types of things is that you have to act on the side of student safety,'' Garland said.

Bob Metz, assistant superintendent for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, did not return repeated calls for comment.

But he told The Mercury News, ''With what the students can get into using the technology, we are concerned about it. There is so much good, and there is so much that can cause difficulties.''

Metz also told the paper that because the safety of students was involved, the suspensions were appropriate.

The school's disciplinary response to the 20 other students who viewed the group was an ''extreme reaction'' and

''overkill,'' said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition.

Scheer said he understood why school officials were concerned about the perceived threats on the Web site, but said that after they ascertained there was no immediate threat of violence, administrators and police should ''pull back and address the speech.''

''The best anecdote for hateful speech is not suppression of that speech,'' he said. ''It is an opportunity for more speech from other members of the community to isolate those kinds of comments and to demonstrate that they are not embraced by larger community.''

California, news, Tewinkle Middle School