As many of you predicted, a Douglas County middle school has backed off plans to suspend three students for Facebook postings because of the privacy issues implicated by the principal’s actions in forcing one of the students to log on to the social network at school and show her the postings calling a teacher a “pedophile” and a “rapist.”
And as many of you also predicted, the parents are considering suing. They ought to be grateful, not litigious.
If these were my kids, I would tell them that they got a break this time, that they are walking away from a dangerous mistake that in the future could cost their jobs.
I would tell them that they attempted to ruin someone’s good name for kicks and that is a sign that they are immature children and that I will now have to treat them as such, no phone, no computer, no parties, no movies. At least one of the parents has taken some of those actions, but I wonder if the reprimand will be undermined by the parents’ thoughts of going to court against the school system.
A court case against Douglas County schools would keep this story in the news, and I think these adolescents would not benefit from more attention to their terrible behavior. It does not serve them well. The law may be on their side, but the public will not be.
Most people will not think it’s the school system that needs the real lesson here.
The students, who called a teacher at Chapel Hill Middle School in Douglas County a “pedophile” and a “rapist” in online posts last month, will return to school Tuesday after a two-week suspension, said William Lambert, Jr., one of the parents.
The kids had faced re-assignment to a school for troubled youths for at least the rest of the semester. But earlier this week the Douglas school system canceled the tribunal hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday morning.
Lambert and the parents of the other two children contend that school principal Jolene Morris violated the students’ privacy. They said Morris forced one of the children, 13-year-old Alejandra Sosa, to log onto her Facebook account at school so the principal could read what the girl and her friends had written.
“The bottom line is the principal was wrong and somebody told her that,” said Lambert. He said Morris called him Monday to tell him the tribunal had been canceled, but offered no explanation.
A Douglas County schools spokeswoman confirmed last week that a hearing involving three unidentified children and Facebook posts was to occur Thursday. But when asked Thursday about the cancellation of that hearing, the spokeswoman, Karen Stroud, said she could no longer talk about the case because of the media coverage. The names of the children had been published and Stroud said she was bound by federal privacy laws regarding disciplinary actions.
In an interview last week, Stroud said the three students were accused of a “level one” offense, the worst possible under school system code, which prohibits “falsifying, misrepresenting, omitting, or erroneously reporting” allegations of inappropriate behavior by a school employee toward a student.
Alejandra, in an interview with her mother, Maria Sosa, said last week that Morris ordered her to log onto her Facebook account on a library computer. She said the principal then read that Alejandra had called one of her teachers a “pedophile.” The principal then read posts by other children, according to Alejandra. That’s where she saw that 12-year-old William Lambert III had called the same teacher a rapist, according to the boy’s father.
Stephanie Lamb, the mother of Taylor Tindle, 12, also said that is where the principal read that Taylor had called the teacher a pedophile.
All three parents said their children had behaved badly, but they also said the punishment was too severe and that their kids were studious, earning As and Bs, and otherwise well-behaved. Lamb said expulsion to the county’s “alternative” school would expose her daughter to gangs and drugs.
The three parents banded together and hired a lawyer.
Lambert said the school system’s decision to relent on the threatened expulsion has not altered his desire to go to court. “We’re considering at least going to federal, saying our rights were violated,” he said.
Lambert, the parent of the boy who called a Chapel Hill teacher a rapist on Facebook, said clear rules are needed. He said he had a talk with his son about the damage one can inflict with words, then took his cell phone and video games as punishment. He also asked his daughter to disable her little brother’s Facebook account.
But Lambert said there is no way “to police it 100 percent” because of the anonymity of the Internet and the ubiquity of computers outside the home — and away from parents’ view.
“If they think their child doesn’t have Facebook they have a rude awakening because you can put a Facebook account under any name,” Lambert said. “This is not over. Facebook is growing.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog