Student Suspended for Criticizing Teacher on Facebook

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BATON ROUGE, LA -- A high school suspended a senior and kicked him out of the honors club because he criticized a teacher on his own Facebook page at 10 p.m., "from his own computer, in his own bedroom, at his parents' home," even though he removed the comment before school the next day, the boy and his father say in Federal Court.

John Doe and Minor Doe sued the West Baton Rouge Parish School Board, its Superintendent David Corona and Brusly High School Principal Walter Lemoine. It's a public school in a public school district; Louisiana calls its counties parishes.

"Plaintiff and Minor Doe bring and plead this matter anonymously, but their identities are already well-known to the parties," the father and son say.

Here's what happened, according to their complaint:

"At approximately 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 7, 2011, Brusly High School senior Minor Doe criticized one of his teachers on Facebook.

"Minor Doe posted the comment to his own Facebook page, from his own computer, in his own bedroom, at his parents' home.

"He formatted the comment so that it was visible only to 10 students with whom he had been working earlier that evening, all of whom had Facebook pages of their own.

"Unbeknownst to Minor Doe, one of those students took a cell phone picture of the posting and sent it via text message to the teacher at issue.

"Having intended the Facebook post as a joke, Minor Doe deleted it the following morning before school.

"Upon receiving the text message, the teacher reported Minor Doe's Facebook post to Principal Lemoine.

"On Monday, September 12th, 2011, Principal Lemoine called Minor Doe's mother to Brusly High School for a meeting.

"At that meeting, Lemoine informed Minor Doe's mother that Minor Doe's Facebook post violated the school's 'Improper access of the Internet' policy, and that Minor Doe would be suspended out of school for five days.

"At the request of Minor Doe's mother, herself a teacher in West Baton Rouge Parish, Lemoine reduced Minor Doe's punishment to a two-day, in-school suspension.

"Minor Doe's two-day, in-school suspension began Friday, September 16th. Principal Lemoine also removed Minor Doe from the Brusly High School 'Beta Club,' an academic honors society.

"The teacher at issue is the faculty supervisor of Beta Club."

Mother Doe asked to meet with the school superintendent "to discuss the constitutionality of Minor Doe's suspension and the possibility of having it reversed and expunged."

She and the superintendent "exchanged several emails about Minor Doe's suspension and the possibility of a meeting, but in the end, Corona indicated that he would not meet until he had consulted with school district counsel."

Mother Doe never did manage to meet with Superintendent Corona, who called her on the telephone "and told her that he would not overturn the suspension until someone told him that it was unconstitutional, and that Minor Doe's mother had a right to pursue that remedy."

The kid finished serving his suspension on Monday, Sept. 19.

"As a result of the suspension, Minor Doe was unable to attend in-class reviews for two exams he was to take on Tuesday, September 20, 2011. He performed poorly on both," the complaint states.

"Prior to performing poorly on the two exams, Minor Doe had never received grades lower than an 'A' in either class."

The Does say the kid had the right to post whatever comments he wanted on his Facebook page, in the privacy of his own home.

"Outside the boundaries of his public educational environment, plaintiff Minor Doe has a fundamental First Amendment right to engage in public speech on his Facebook page, including commentary that his teacher finds offensive," the complaint states.

"Minor Doe's Facebook post, while critical and insulting, was created in his own home, using his own computer, and was not in any way intentionally directed at Brusly High School. The post therefore is protected speech under the First Amendment.

"In the alternative, within the boundaries of his public educational environment, plaintiff Minor Doe has a fundamental First Amendment right to engage in public speech on his Facebook page, so long as that speech does not substantially disrupt the educational mission of his school.

"Minor Doe's Facebook post did not create a disruption at school. Indeed, any disruption that resulted from the post was created either by the school itself, or by a party outside Minor Doe's control.

"For the above reasons, Minor Doe's two-day, in-school suspension and other punishments violated the First Amendment.

The Does seek a restraining order to keep the suspension confidential. They want the school district ordered to "refrain from sharing Minor Doe's disciplinary record as to the suspension with any other person or entity, including any colleges to which Minor Doe may be applying for admission;" and they want him to be able to retake the two exams, and reinstated in the honors club.

The Does are represented by Justin Harrison with the ACLU in New Orleans.

The complaint never states just what Minor Doe said about his teacher.