- 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)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.