Students Suspended for Racist Snapchats Sue Over Free Speech
- Students who were suspended over racist messages they sent in a Snapchat group are suing the school for violating their free speech.
- The lawsuit claims that because the messages were made in private, on personal phones, and not on school grounds, the school does not have the authority to discipline the students.
- The suit opens up a debate about free speech, digital speech, and the power of public schools to punish students.
Student File Lawsuit
Four students suspended after making racist remarks in a Snapchat group filed a lawsuit against the Saline Michigan School District Tuesday, alleging that their free speech rights were violated.
The lawsuit argues that public school officials did not have the power to discipline the students because the remarks were made in private, on the student’s personal phones, and on a Sunday when the students were not on school grounds.
“Defendants acted outside the scope of their authority and violated Plaintiffs’ rights by suspending all four of them and recommending the expulsion of two of them for the expression contained in the text messages,” it says.
Both white and African American students used offensive remarks, the lawyers said, including “terms like the ‘N’ word and various abbreviations of that word, ‘white power,’ and ‘the South will rise again,’” in addition to “inappropriate ‘memes’ or pictures.”
“One of the African-American children jokingly suggested that everyone on the chat say the ‘N’ word at the same time to stop racism and many of the children did so,” they added.
After that, a number of African American students left the group. Another African American teenager later joined the chat, recorded a video of the racist messages, and publicly posted them.
The lawsuit notes that when a person leaves a Snapchat group everything they share is erased. It claims that the teen who joined later did not see the full context of the messages, and argues that the initial students in chat understood that it was “in the context of immature banter between friends and in a joking manner.”
The students never intended to make the conversation public, the plaintiffs claim.
On Jan. 27, the school suspended the four students who later filed the lawsuit, also recommending expulsion for two of them.
The students also allege that they were suspended without being given written notice of their rights to due process. They are seeking damages and asking that their disciplinary records be cleared.
Free Speech Debate
In a statement Tuesday, the students’ lawyer, David Kallman, argued that it is the parent and not the school who should discipline them for such behavior.
“This case boils down to a simple question: When a child misbehaves at home, who disciplines — the local public school or the parent?” he said. “If a child gets stopped for drunk driving on a Saturday night, does the school have the right to expel that student? The answer is obvious. No.”
“The conversation of these children had nothing to do with the school. It has no authority to discipline students for out of school misbehavior,” he added.
With this case, there is also a question of digital privacy.
“Schools generally will happily let families referee off-campus disputes when it’s verbal. When it’s digitally memorialized, it somehow makes schools feel they are duty-bound to react,” media law professor Frank LoMonte told the Washington Post.
In general, LoMonte said, courts have ruled public schools can discipline students only for offensive remarks made at official events or using school equipment.
For example, in 2017, a cheerleader was disciplined over private messages she sent on the weekend using expletives about her coaches. A rights group filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ruled that the cheerleader’s messages were protected speech.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is likely to stoke further divides in the small town.
The messages have provoked controversy since they were first brought to the public attention on Jan. 27 when Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden wrote a letter to parents denouncing “offensive and inappropriate racist comments” that were posted on social media by students at the local high school.
The district held a community meeting to talk about racism, which ended up making national headlines after a Latino father named Adrian Iraola described racism his now-grown children had experienced.
“When I went to his bedroom to say good night, and he was crying because of the abuse that he was enduring in this school system,” Iraola said.
“So why didn’t you stay in Mexico?” a white community-member responded, prompting gasps from the room.
That interaction produced both a viral video, even more tense community meetings, and an anti-racist rally that reportedly brought in more than 200 people.
With the new lawsuit, the tensions are unlikely to die down any time soon.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Detroit Free Press) (Ann Arbor News)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.