A Massachusetts high school student who landed in hot water after posting a profane tweet has successfully enlisted the ACLU to intervene on his behalf. The student, Nick Barbieri, is a senior at North Attleboro High School. His school sent a tweet in early February that informed students of a class cancellation because of inclement weather. The tweet ended with a “See you in June,” which Barbieri seems to have interpreted as a sarcastic tagline referring to the makeup day that would be required in June.
Barbieri responded with a tweet of his own that read, “F— off.” It wasn’t long before school officials were calling his home and demanding that the tweet be deleted. The student complied, and assumed that the situation was at an end.
However, when school resumed, Barbieri found himself being pulled out of class multiple times to discuss the situation and the punishment that the school was contemplating. Barbieri faced a minimum six hours of detention, and may have been subject to suspension.
He took to Twitter once again, sending messages about the school’s response and the pending punishment. North Attleboro High responded by asking him to delete these tweets as well. Frustrated, Barbieri finally sent a tweet directed to the ACLU, asking that they help him to protect his right to free speech as it is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Stepping in quickly, an ACLU lawyer drafted a letter (available HERE) to school officials that asked them to reconsider their approach to the situation. The letter pointed out that the school did not have the right to punish a student for his remarks while off school property, even if those remarks related to the school. Moreover, the letter suggested that the school actually owed Barbieri an apology for seeking to punish him for speaking his mind.
The letter worked. North Attleboro High reversed its decision to punish Barbieri for the tweet, and his record has been cleared. Barbieri remains philosophical, noting that social media is unexplored territory for many, and that schools will have to deal with the fact that tweeting invites comments from others.