A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has unanimously upheld the discipline of a Michigan high school student who tweeted a threat to stab another student and brought a steak knife to school.
According to court papers, the student was upset with another student and tweeted the message, “stab stab stab. Going to stab stab stab you today to see your insides. ya ya ya.” Not surprisingly, the other student brought this message to the attention of school administrators, while at the same time another student notified the administration that the student who tweeted the “stab” message had shown her a steak knife which she had brought to school.
The student and her family challenged her suspension and expulsion on due process grounds. The student admitted sending out the “stab” message on Twitter, but denied that she brought a knife to school and stated she had no intention of stabbing another student. Despite her claims, the board of education expelled the student for possession of a knife in school.
The 6th Circuit upheld the district court’s summary judgment on behalf of the school district. In its decision in C.Y. v. Lakeview Public Schools, the court held that the school district did not violate due process in suspending the student over the phone (the school district denied that this happened), noting that suspensions of 10 days or less require minimal due process.
As for the family’s due process challenge to the expulsion decision, which claimed some witness statements and the vice-principal’s report were withheld from them, the court held that “the record leaves no doubt that [the student] received an explanation of their contents adequate to prepare her defense, and thus her due process rights were not infringed.”
The 6th Circuit’s decision offers useful guidelines as to the required due process for the student disciplinary process, as well as reinforcing the tendency of courts to give school districts great discretion in the area of school security and student safety.