Lawsuit against Griffith schools over expulsions due to Facebook comments dismissed
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent March 18, 2013 1:36PM
Updated: March 29, 2013 4:01PM
GRIFFITH — The suit against the Griffith Public Schools by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three eighth-grade girls expelled for comments they made on Facebook has been dismissed.
The confidential settlement agreement, obtained by the Post-Tribune Monday morning, states the plaintiffs have agreed to dismiss the lawsuit “with prejudice” and releases the district from any expenses the plaintiffs incurred. In turn, the expulsion of the three girls, listed in the suit as K.F., S.M. and J.D., is considered satisfied by Griffith Public Schools and is expunged from their transcripts, though if they’re expelled again from Griffith for any other reason, the district could refer to this expulsion at its discretion.
The mothers of two of the plaintiffs signed off on the dismissal in December, while the third signed off March 1, the agreement indicates. The Griffith School Board signed off on the agreement at its March 14 meeting.
Griffith Superintendent Peter Morikis said the suit has been dismissed but declined further comment, citing confidentiality.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued the school district in the U.S. District Court in Hammond in April of last year on behalf of the families, claiming Griffith violated the rights of girls when it expelled them from school after they made comments on Facebook about their fellow students and even teachers. The lawsuit claimed the three Griffith Middle School female students talked to one another on Jan. 24, 2012 through numerous comments under a Facebook status posted by S.M. The conversation eventually turned to talking about which classmates the girls would like to kill and how they would do so.
A copy of the comments provided by the parents of one of the students named show that the three girls talked about creating a hit list of their peers and best ways to kill them.
The district found out about the comments from the mother of another student and a principal placed them on a 10-day suspension and recommended they be expelled for violating the school’s policy on bullying and harassment. Morikis did so after an expulsion hearing supported the move.
The ACLU argued, however, that the girls were simply joking during the online chat, as indicated by the fact that they used emoticons such as “;)” meaning to give a wink. It also argued that they used their own personal computer equipment on their own time and that the conversation was never mentioned at or caused a disruption at school.
“At no point in this conversation were the girls expressing any actual intentions to inflict harm on any person, nor were they threatening or attempting to intimidate any person,” the suit said.
The lawsuit asked for an injunction against the expulsions and for monetary damages, but none were awarded in the settlement.