Griffith parents unhappy with Facebook lawsuit
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org April 26, 2012 4:20PM
Tim Tinsley (left) listens as his ex-wife Regina Webb reads the Facebook conversation between several students about others at school, including their 8th-grade daughter, in Griffith, Ind. Thursday April 26, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 26, 2012 9:34PM
Two Griffith parents aren’t laughing about a claim made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana that three Griffith Middle School girls were just joking when they posted on Facebook about wanting to kill some of their classmates.
Regina Webb and her ex-husband, Tim Tinsley, say the postings, which got the girls expelled from school for the rest of the semester, were serious and disturbing.
“Reading the transcript, I don’t understand how somebody could do that,” Webb said. “Is that something you sit around and joke about?”
The ACLU filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond on behalf of the three girls, claiming Griffith Middle School had violated their rights to free speech by expelling them for what they wrote on Facebook. The lawsuit described the comments, which took place through various public postings made by the girls on Facebook in January, as just teenage banter as shown by the girls using emoticons and nothing that a reasonable person could take seriously.
A copy of the postings provided by Webb shows that the girls talked about how they wanted to kill ugly people then went on to list specific students, including Webb and Tinsley’s child, and even a teacher who they would like to kill. One emoticon, “:D,” was used once.
One girl wrote about how she wanted to create a hit list and another post talked about wanting to kill at least 20 people.
“I wanna light someone on fire,” one post said.
The girls discussed the best ways to kill someone, including using a box cutter and keeping it free of fingerprints by wrapping a towel around the handle. Another suggested placing a body in a tub full of acid to destroy any evidence.
When one girl said she had gasoline, another said she had a match and that they should go kill someone now.
A friend of Webb’s daughter told her about the posting, and when her daughter came home from school upset, she reluctantly told her mother about the postings, Webb said.
After seeing what the posts said, she and Tinsley took the issue to the school, which suspended the students for 10 days then eventually expelled them.
“I don’t how the ACLU can back these girls,” Tinsley said.
Tinsley said he was happy with how the school handled the situation and added that the school had even had a workshop on cyberbullying for students at the beginning of the year. The middle school’s handbook, which parents must sign off on, includes a section on cyberbullying.
The Griffith Police Department got involved through its school resource officer and created an official report. Detective Lt. Matt Argadine said he believes a discussion was held with the Lake County prosecutor’s office about the case, although nothing official was turned over. Tinsley said an attorney with the prosecutor’s office told him they declined to press charges because there was no law banning cyberbullying. A representative with the prosecutor’s office could not be reached.
Tinsley said he didn’t see how this was different than any other crime that happens online.
Webb said if the law needs to be changed so prosecutors can go after this, then that needs to happen. “Something needs to be changed,” she said.
Their daughter has already missed a few days from school because of the comments, and even her younger sister has had to miss a day because of it. Tinsley said he’s keeping his daughter away from technology for the rest of the year and she’s afraid to go to school.
“No child should have to stay home,” Webb said. “No child should have to go to another school to feel safe.”