Ind. high school students facing expulsion for Twitter accounts

INDIANA — Students who made three fake Twitter accounts impersonating their principal, wrestling and basketball coach are facing suspension and possible expulsion from Lawrence North High School.

A group of offended students and basketball coach Jack Keefer brought the Twitter accounts to the attention of principal Brett Crousore last week. According to the Indianapolis Star, tweets from the accounts were sexually and racially charged. One of them read, “I love it when girls wear those black yoga pants,” according to the Star.

Of the four students involved, two students used school equipment during class to create the fake accounts, district spokeswoman Sharon Smith said.

One student created an account outside of class. Another student is outside of the Lawrence Township school district. It is up to that student’s district to rule on the appropriate action, Smith said.

The three students attending school in Lawrence Township are being suspended, Smith said. Two who used school equipment to produce the accounts are being recommended for expulsion. The other student who created an account at home is being suspended on the charge of cyberbullying, Smith said.

“The students used school property to generate the Twitter accounts and as a result they violated the Acceptable Use Policy,” Smith said.

Crousore declined to comment on the disciplined students or the bullying charges. According to the bullying policy available on the district’s website, bullying is by a student against another student with intent to harm. Crousore declined comment on whether another of the tweets were about other students.

The district’s computer use policy states that technology is not to be used for “harmful matter.”

Harmful matter is described as any action or information that is not enhancing the scholastic experience, including using the district’s Internet access for anything “other than educational purposes.”

Crousore said the policy is in every student handbook.

“Teachers monitor technology use in the classroom,” Crousore said. “We have a technology person that can link into any computer that is being used at our school at any time. The kids logged on through one class and created a Twitter account and then re-accessed the account. After that, most was done through their phones.”

A statement issued to families and students said Lawrence North monitors the use of technology in school through the use of filters and firewalls.

Filters at the school don’t block Twitter because it’s not supposed to be blocked, Crousore said.

“We use Twitter for other means. I tweet scholarships, our counselors send information and so do our teachers,” Crousore said. “It’s another way to communicate with our students and our families so people can keep track of the positive things that are taking place in our schools.”

If the disciplined students choose to file suit, Kenneth Falk, legal director for the ACLU in Indiana, said a minimum requirement for discipline would be that the accounts were disruptive.

“The law is unclear as to how to deal with out-of-school activity that enters the school through electronic media,” Falk said. “The basic rules from Tinker back in the late ‘60s is that students have a First Amendment right except to the extent that what they engage in is disruptive to the educational environment.... The question is, what standards should apply?”

Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court case referenced by Falk, went in favor of students who were suspended for wearing armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The case established that school officials may not punish student speech unless it is disruptive to normal school activities or invades the rights of others.

Falk said the courts are struggling with out-of-school social media activity that affects school districts, like Lawrence North’s fake Twitter accounts.

Falk sued another Indiana district after several students were punished for suggestive photos they posted on Facebook outside of school. In August, a federal judge sided with the students, but has not yet decided how much the school district will have to pay in damages.

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