The lawsuit states: “This action arises out of a private online discussion between friends that the Albany School system has pried into without authority. All conduct at issue in this matter occurred off school property, were conducted off school hours, and were otherwise completely unrelated to school activity.”
An attorney for the boys told CBS: "This to me is no different than having a private drawing book and making some offensive drawings at home and sharing them with a couple of friends. Does the school have the right to ruin my life over something I was doing at my house?"
The case also raises questions about what it signifies to click "like" on offensive posts on social media. Does "liking" a repugnant post make you a party to it?
"'Likes' are ambiguous in that they could be saying, 'This is funny,' 'I agree with it,' or 'I don't agree, but I want to stand up for your right to say it,'" said Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The suspended boys want their records cleared and all disciplinary actions stopped during the lawsuit. The boys contended they felt unsafe returning to school after the incident, which created furor in the community and led to vigils and protests. The boys were given permission to have 20 days on independent study at home. Some chose to return to school with bodyguards provided by the district.
According to San Jose Mercury News:
Defense attorney Dan Horowitz, who reviewed the boys' lawsuit, said it has merit in that the inflammatory posts were on a private account and only disrupted school activities once one boy's phone was taken by another student. "Having childish or hateful beliefs off campus are 100 percent protected," Horowitz said. "The school's publicizing of the matter and exposing the students to ridicule, negative characterizations etc. is deeply troubling. The students cannot defend themselves as they are barred from campus and have no ability to address the student body. "You have the right to be racist in this country, and you have the right not to be racist in this country," he said. "This turns the school into the Thought Police."
Here's the problem: Parents want schools to be the Thought Police when a student's thoughts escalate into online bullying of their child.
I read several national stories of teens who killed themselves, and schools were cited in all of them for failing to stop the social media tormenting of the kids. There are several high-profile lawsuits pending from parents suing schools after their children suffered online harassment and took their lives.
Schools seem to face an impossible balancing act. Your thoughts?