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Twitter or Tinker? Illinois Students Suspended Over Social Media Comments

The uneasy intersection of social media and the First Amendment took another twisted turn in late October with the suspension of 10 high school students over their use of Twitter. The students in question attend Granite City High School, part of Community Unit School District 9 in Southwestern Illinois.

Social%20Media%2037877338-001.jpgIt all started with a tweet that included a student’s opinion of a female teacher. The tweet referred to the teacher as a MILF, a colloquial acronym used to describe a mature, attractive woman with high sex appeal. Principal Jim Greenwald conducted an inquiry and found out that two students chose to re-tweet the original message. Another student deemed it worthy of a favorite mention.

The Twitter interaction between those four students resulted in their suspension, but that did not stop the investigation. School officials later found more tweets posted by the student body, including one by a young woman who in jest tweeted musings about blowing up the school in order to defer classes. That was suspension number five, which was extended to three other students who participated in re-tweeting.

Once news of the eight suspensions traveled through social networks, the situation escalated in Granite City High. Students who felt that their freedom to tweet had been threatened exercised their freedom of speech by posting fliers showing their disapproval. Two of those students were called into Principal Greenwald’s office and were summarily suspended.

Though no legal action has been taken on the Granite City High matter, the suspensions evoke comparisons to Tinker v. Des Moines, the landmark 1969 Supreme Court case made memorable by the late Justice Abe Fortas’ opinion that students are not stripped of their First Amendment rights when they step into school grounds.

If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.