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Lawsuits challenge HS suspensions for interacting with offensive Instagram post

Two students have filed suit in federal court against a California school district after their high school suspended them for interacting — off campus — with an offensive post on Instagram.

They join four of their peers who initiated their own lawsuit at the beginning of the month.

In total, over a dozen attendees of Albany High School near Berkeley were suspended in conjunction with the Instagram post which, according to the New York Daily News, “included nooses drawn around the necks of a black student and coach, as well as a photo of a black person next to an ape.”

The person who put up the post also faces expulsion.

Both lawsuits allege that after news of the matter was revealed, the students were confronted by an angry mob of their peers; the Daily News describes it as “a ‘public shaming’ session during which they were cursed and jeered” while, according to the second suit, school staff “literally stood there and looked on.”

US News reports the latest suit seeks “to clear their disciplinary records and have their actions declared constitutionally protected speech.”

More from the story:

The new lawsuit says the account’s photos were “disgusting and extremely inappropriate,” but that the two students’ interactions occurred outside of school and caused no direct educational disruption that could be used to justify discipline.

“It was not until defendants, and each of them, publicized and shared photos of the account, albeit redacted in part, with the entire student body that the learning process was disrupted and the depicted were placed in fear,” the lawsuit says.

The new lawsuit says three students contributed content to the private Instagram account and that 13 others were invited to follow the private account, which was exposed when an uninvited student saw the content on a classmate’s phone.

“The vast majority of the [13], being minorities themselves, were speechless,” the lawsuit says. …

Three students behind the initial lawsuit have Asian heritage, and the fourth is white. Those students were named in that lawsuit, with their attorneys reasoning that people already knew who they are. Three have not returned to the school.

“The school administrators are trying to right all of the wrongs of society within Albany High School,” says Darryl Yorkey, an attorney representing the initial four. “They essentially provided tar and feathers to everyone who wants to label these students as ‘racists’ or ‘harmers.'”

Alan Beck, an attorney involved in the first lawsuit, says “This isn’t exactly the Ku Klux Klan rising up. This is a multiracial group of friends making bad jokes on the internet.”

Attorneys for both plaintiffs say the lawsuits may be combined.

The US News piece points to a blog post by legal scholar Jonathan Turley who worries about the “steady erosion of the free speech rights of students” — which could be accelerated should the defendants prevail here.

Read the full US News and Daily News stories.

MORE: Most high schoolers support censorship of unpopular opinions if they are ‘offensive’

MORE: Another high school principal shows he doesn’t understand the Constitution

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About the Author
Assistant Editor
Dave Huber is assistant editor of The College Fix. He has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over a decade, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. Dave is a retired educator with over 25 years of service who holds a B.A. and M.Ed. from the University of Delaware, as well as graduate student membership in the National Association of Scholars.

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