A new lawsuit is raising questions about free speech rights after four California high school students were suspended for liking a racist post on Instagram, CBS News reports.
Back in March, photos of a black student and a coach surfaced on one Albany High School student's Instagram, showing the two with nooses around their necks. After that student was suspended (and now facing expulsion) for posting the photo on his private account, four additional students were suspended for liking and commenting on it. Now those four students are suing the school district, arguing that it overstepped by suspending them, and claimed it subjected them to "public shaming" in front of their fellow classmates.
"This to me is no different than having a private drawing book and making some offensive drawings at home and sharing them with a couple of friends," Alan Beck, an attorney representing four of the 'likers,' told the Associated Press. "Does the school have the right to ruin my life over something I was doing at my house?"
According to the AP, Albany is a rich neighborhood just three miles north of Berkeley, California––the epicenter of a national debate over free speech. Elsewhere, in Chicago, two students sued Marist High School in December after they were kicked out for sending racist texts in a group thread. The Albany case could force the courts to define how or when schools can monitor a student's speech when they're not on campus.
Beck says his clients' suspensions were even more of an overreach than how other schools punish kids for racist social media activity, since the account they commented on was private and they didn't actually generate any of its content. For instance, one of the students who was punished said "yep" to a post on the racist account.
"The district takes great care to ensure that our students feel safe at school," Albany Unified School District superintendent Valerie Williams told the AP, "and we are committed to providing an inclusive and respectful learning environment for all of our students."
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