Sophomore suspended for posting photos taken in classroom sues district

MISSOURI -- A high school sophomore who was suspended for taking photos of his teacher during class and posting the pictures online lost the first round of his lawsuit against the school district Dec. 11, when a federal judge refused to lift the student's suspension early.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the student, Logan Glover, and his father, Jerome. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, argues that Glover broke no school policy and caused no disruption by taking the photos and posting them on Facebook, and thus that Lafayette High School administrators and the Rockwood School District violated Glover's First Amendment rights by punishing him for his protected expression. Glover was suspended for three days and permanently removed from his Language Arts class.

Glover took the photos with his digital camera Nov. 20, during his Language Arts class. The pictures show teacher Jessica Hauser at her desk, looking over paperwork and talking with other students. Hauser did not notice the pictures being taken, but in some of the seven pictures, students smile or give a thumbs-up to the camera. Later, Glover used his home computer to post the pictures to his Facebook profile.

"This is sort of like, 'hey this is my life' pictures," Jerome Glover said, noting that "there is nothing about the pictures that anyone should find offensive." Logan Glover was not available to comment; he was in school Friday and scheduled to leave on vacation with his family immediately after school, Jerome Glover said.

On Dec. 6, more than two weeks after Logan Glover took the photos, school officials learned about the pictures and ordered Glover to provide them with copies. Glover did so and removed the photos from Facebook. On Dec. 7, Glover and his parents met with Assistant Principal Kirti Mehrotra, who gave Glover a letter notifying him that he was suspended for three days, beginning Dec. 10. The letter listed Glover's offense as "disruption of school environment."

But Mark Sableman, the Glovers' attorney, said students were working independently when Glover took his pictures, and thus the photos did not disrupt any class lectures or discussions. Sableman noted that Hauser and school officials did not even learn the pictures existed until weeks after they were posted.

"There was no disruption of the class period at all, much less any substantial disruption," Sableman said.

The Glovers also maintain that, since few people even noticed the pictures being taken, Logan Glover is really being punished for posting the pictures online from home. The lawsuit contends that administrators had no right to regulate expression that took place outside of school and used no school resources.

Kim Cranston, the district's communications director, said the district would not comment on the case to the media on the advice of the district's and the plaintiffs' lawyers. But in court filings, the school district argues that the pictures disrupted the classroom because some students posed for the camera and were "off-task and joking around rather than paying attention." In an affidavit, Principal John Shaughnessy says there was "considerable discussion of the photographs" in several classes once the photos were discovered, resulting in a "loss of classroom instruction time."

The district also notes that the school discipline policy prohibits students from using their cell phones as cameras during the school day. But the policy does not include a blanket prohibition on the use of standalone cameras. The current version of Rockwood's student handbook only mentions restrictions on student photography under the heading of "Sexual Misconduct"; that policy bars students from taking photos in changing areas or in situation where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

"There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures that we have found on Facebook" of students and teachers in Lafayette classrooms, Jerome Glover said. "The idea that cameras are somehow banned ... is literally preposterous."

When the Glovers filed suit, they unsuccessfully asked for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed Logan Glover to return to school a day early and return to Hauser's class. Glover, who receives special education services, was assigned to Hauser's class because a special education teacher is assigned to work with that class. The Glovers contend that permanently removing Logan Glover from the class violates his right to receive an adequate education.

In justifying Glover's permanent removal from Hauser's class, Shaughnessy said in his affidavit that Hauser was "deeply troubled" by the photos and subsequently had trouble focusing in class.

"She is very upset and worried over the photographs and believes her trust has been violated," Shaughnessy said.

For now, Glover has been assigned to a ninth-grade Language Arts class. Although that class also has a special education teacher, Glover's father said the arrangement is unworkable because "the class content is the class content that he had last year" and coordination with the tenth-grade class has been cumbersome.

Sableman, the Glovers' attorney, said the family might be able to reach a settlement with the district in the next week, while students are on break. But Jerome Glover on Friday said he did not think that was likely.

"I'm not optimistic," Glover said.

For More Information:

L.G., et al. v. Rockwood School District, et al. No. 4:07-CV-02044-RWS (E.D. Mo. filed Dec. 11, 2007)

Lafayette High School, Missouri, news