(SALINE, Mich.) — The parents of four Saline, Michigan, high school students filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday over the students’ suspension following alleged racist messages they posted on Snapchat.
Two of the unnamed students, all white, have returned to their classes while the others face expulsion for their Jan. 26 Snapchat texts where they reportedly used the N word and white supremacy statements, according to the students’ attorney, David A. Kallman. Kallman contends their punishments violated their first amendment rights.
Although the suit acknowledged that the students’ Snapchat thread was inappropriate and immature, it argued that the school had no jurisdiction to discipline them since the texting took place outside of school grounds and the students were denied their due process rights.
“This case boils down to a simple question: When a child misbehaves at home, who disciplines – the local public school or the parent?” Kallman said in a statement.
Representatives for the Saline Area Schools didn’t immediately return messages asking for comment. Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden released a letter on Jan. 27 that the school investigated the texts after they were reported to administrators and determined “that the incident represents an act of racism that created harm to all of our students.”
The suit said the four defendants were not the ones who started the Snapchat chain and black students were also part of the thread. It also said that the preserved exchanges did not include the full conversation, including a statement from one of the black students who allegedly “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.”
Kallman is seeking “compensatory and punitive damages” for his clients.
The incident sparked a debate among school administrators, students and parents that led to a heated meeting on race issues on Feb. 3 in a Saline school. As parent Adrian Iraola talked about the struggles he and his children faced because they were Mexican, a man interrupted and said, “So why didn’t you stay in Mexico?”
Audience members gasped and told the heckler to leave. Graden wrote a letter condemning the racist remark.
“This type of bigotry goes against all of the values and beliefs of our school system,” he wrote.
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