ACLU to McKay HS: Lift re-tweet suspensions

A person uses a smart phone (MGN Online, file)
A person uses a smart phone (MGN Online, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Suspending 20 students for a re-tweet about a McKay High School teacher violates both the US and Oregon constitution, the ACLU said in a letter to school officials on Friday.

Kevin Diaz, the legal director of the ACLU of Oregon, wrote to McKay principal Sara LeRoy and said the students suspensions need to be lifted and expunged from their records.

“In disciplining those students because of their off-campus expressive activity, McKay High School officials have infringed on the students’ rights to free speech under both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution,” Diaz wrote.

He also cited the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. “In its analysis, the United States Supreme Court held that school officials may prohibit or punish student expressive activity if the school has evidence that the speech has materially and substantially interfered with schoolwork or discipline, or interfered with the rights of other students,” he said.

McKay High School, in Salem, Ore., as pictured on the school's website.
McKay High School, in Salem, Ore., as pictured on the school’s website.

Erik Jespersen with the Salem School District confirmed the students were suspended over “a negative post (that) was written about a teacher and re-tweeted by a number of our students.”

Citing the Salem-Keizer Student Rights and Responsibilites, Jespersen wrote in an email: “Acts of hazing, harassment, sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying, cyber bullying and menacing will not be tolerated by student to student, staff to student, or student to staff.”

One parent, Kathleen Gormley, received a phone message from McKay High School with their decision to suspend her son, Tim, for two days over the re-tweet.

“It’s not even that bad of a tweet, like it was like nothing,” Tim Gormley said. “I didn’t even think about it when I retweeted it. I just saw it and retweeted it.”

He said what he re-tweeted was so harmless compared to other available tweets that it’s been hard to find a lesson in all this.

The ACLUs Diaz also wrote, “Suspending students for off-campus ‘tweets,’ ‘retweets’ and ‘favorites’ in this instance is a clear violation of both the United States and Oregon Constitutions.”

Diaz and the ACLU “strongly urge McKay High School to remove all record of the suspensions imposed on students who were unlawfully disciplined and respect the free speech rights of students in the future.”

At this time, KOIN 6 News has not received a response from the school.

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