The Proper Response to Teenage 'Death Threat' Jokes Is LOL -- Not Expulsion From School

smileysI'm so relieved that the three 14-year-old girls in Indiana who were expelled from eighth grade for making "death threats" on Facebook have somebody on their side. The ACLU is suing on the girls' behalf, and their argument is spot-on: "Genuine death threats don't tend to come with 'LOL' and a smiley face attached."

Gee, ya think? Here's the deal: The girls were having a conversation on Facebook. Said conversation eventually turned to the topic of classmates they wished they could "kill." (Including the aforementioned LOLZ, emoticons, and other such digital indicators of non-violent intent.)

Was this a kind and pleasant virtual exchange? No, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying they weren't having a "mean girls" moment.

But were they making death threats?


To quote Gavin Rose, staff attorney for the ACLU of Indiana, “Any reasonable person could see the conversation was purely in jest and could not be interpreted seriously. Free speech rights under the First Amendment, even when it’s speech we don’t like or agree with, must still be protected, and schools do not possess infinite reach into the private lives of their students."

Precisely. If the school wanted to suspend the girls for a couple of days or give them detention for a week, that would've been one thing. But expulsion? That's a permanent record thing (not to mention expensive, particularly for the mom who had to spend nearly $1,000 on home-schooling since her daughter was expelled). The school is allowing the girls to take the tests necessary to advance to the ninth grade, but the academic damage is no doubt already done.

As a parent, I totally understand that we're all a little over-sensitive these days thanks to the school shooting phenomenon and a million other incidents that makes us afraid to send our kids to class. But we need to be, as Rose said, "reasonable." Smiley faces? Come on.

Do you think these girls deserved to be expelled?


Image via Ramesh NG/Flickr

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