In Bedford County, Virginia, a Liberty High School senior has filed a lawsuit against school officials claiming that his rights were violated when the school district suspended him for sexting, the process of sending explicit material or words through text messaging.
The student, 18 year old Aaron Merkey, was suspended in March through the end of the school year. According to the school district, he sent a pornographic image to a female student through his cell phone. The lawsuit the student has filed claims that the school district’s punishment was too harsh and that his rights of due process were violated because of the disciplinary actions taken. Eight school board members, the superintendent and the principal are named as defendants in the case.
Merkey’s lawyer has filed a motion for an order to allow the student to return to school, through a preliminary injunction. In addition, he is suing for $100,000 in punitive damages against Liberty High School Principal Mary Brandon and $50,000 in compensatory damages.
Merkey was scheduled to graduate in early June and because of the lawsuit, the student is suffering from “embarrassment, humiliation, emotional anguish and public ridicule” from the suspension, according to the lawsuit. He also is unable to participate in sports activities and prom.
Neither the spokesman for the school or the school’s attorney would comment.
However, within the lawsuit, the details of what happened are presented. On February 22nd, the school received a photo from a cell phone showing a woman’s buttocks with a caption under it reading “Have a nice day, A——.” The student forwarded the picture to another student, a female, who complained about it to the school. Merkey was then sent to the principal’s office and there admitted to sending the picture to the female student. Later, the message circulated throughout the school.
On February 24, the principal informed Merkey’s mother that the student was guilty of sending pornography through his cell phone and sexting. At that time, the student was suspended for ten days with a recommendation for suspension for the rest of the school year. According to the lawsuit, the principal told the parents that the suspension was harsh because Merkey sent the message to a female but had it been to just males, “boys would be boys” would be considered.
On March 8th, the superintendent ruled that the suspension should hold for the remainder of the school year. She also ruled that a four week review period would be used to determine if he could return to school after April 2nd. An appeal by the parents did not dissuade the school board from the decision. The school board also ruled that the student would be suspended through the end of the school year without the review that the superintendent had allowed.
The lawsuit says that the student was never made aware of his right to appeal the decision on his own, since he is 18. Further, it states that school district’s harsher punishment was driven by the principal of the school and her recommendation was based on discriminatory standards between the sexes. Additionally the lawsuit contends that Merkey, an honors student and varsity soccer player, was given a harsher punishment than one recently given to a student who brought a handgun to school.
If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 818-461-8500 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.