Indiana School, Girls, Settle Facebook Threat Lawsuit
Three Indiana girls who discussed which classmates they would like to kill in Facebook posts adorned with smiley faces and LOLs have reached a settlement with the school district that expelled them for violating an anti-bullying policy.
American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana attorney Gavin Rose, who sued Griffith Public Schools on the girls' behalf, said Tuesday he could not discuss the details of the settlement because it was confidential.
Rose declined to say whether there was a cash settlement, but he did say the girls, who were expelled during eight grade, returned to Griffith Public Schools for their freshman year of high school last fall.
Tom Wheeler, the Carmel attorney who represented the school district, did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.
The ACLU sued the school district about 25 miles southeast of Chicago in April 2012, three months after the girls were expelled for making comments on Facebook — that they since have framed as jokes — about which of their classmates they would like to kill. The lawsuit alleged the district had violated the students' free-speech rights.
School officials said the girls violated school policy against bullying, harassment and intimidation and disrupted school activities. The school district filed court documents containing excerpts from among nearly 70 Facebook comments that were posted by the girls during a two-hour period in January 2012. Those comments included names of at least five people they said they wanted to kill and discussions of using guns, knives, box cutters and gasoline and filling a bath tub with acid to dissolve a body.
But the girls' lawsuit said any reasonable person would have realized the 14-year-olds were only joking because they used emoticons such as smiley faces, terms that represent laughter including LOL, and capital letters that represent sarcasm.
The posts were made after school on the girls' personal electronic devices, not on school computers, and were visible only to those to whom the girls had allowed access.
Regina Webb, the mother of one of the classmates who was the target of the girls' remarks, said she was "infuriated" at the settlement.
"What kind of message is that sending to my daughter or anyone else who was on the list that it's OK to bully . . . and you're going to have a paycheck waiting at the end of the day," Webb said.
Since 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court has generally ruled that students have free-speech rights, and schools can prohibit their speech only if it is vulgar or disruptive to schoolwork or other people. The lawsuit says the posts did not cause any disruption at school.
After the settlement was reached, Magistrate Judge Andrew P. Rodovich dismissed the case Monday in U.S. District Court in Hammond, Ind. His order prohibits the lawsuit from being filed again.