Lawyers for the Saline Area Schools district argued a federal court judge should throw out a restraining order requested by four students disciplined by the district for racist slurs, images and slogans posted social media chat group.
Timothy Mullins, of Giamarco, Mullins and Horton PC, attorneys for the district, asserted the district’s right to discipline students involved in the Jan. 26 Snapchat group.. Court documents revealed the new details about the ways the incident impacted the school community. The response also rejected the plaintiffs’ claims about the harm caused by the discipline..
The case is in front of United States District Court Eastern District Court of Michigan Judge Paul Borman. The plaintiffs filed suit Feb. 11, arguing the discipline was a violation of the students’ first amendment rights, and that the district had no right to discipline them for off-campus speech. The attorneys filed for a temporary restraining order against the district’s discipline of the students Feb. 24.
In the district’s March 2 response to the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, lawyers stated legal precedent backs the decision to discipline students for behavior that “in class or out of it, which for any reason . . . materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.”
In their response, lawyers said four members of the Saline football team, the plaintiffs, invited African American teammates to join a Snapchat group and called them the “n-word,” causing the African American students to leave the chat. Once they left, the students declared they won a “race war” and cheered on “white power”. The district’s lawyers said the messages were shared around the Saline community and that the district was inundated with complaints. The response also says African American students feared attending class and had trouble focusing on school work.
According to the response, the Snapchat incident created a hostile environment and substantial disruption on campus. They also asserted the plaintiffs are arguing that clients have a constitutional right to direct racial slurs at their African American classmates and that the following speech is constitutionally protected:
- “A ****** is a black person, but a black person isn’t always a ******.”
- “Can you like stop being black?”
And when the students left the chat:
- “Victory Lap. White Power. The South will Rise Again. Amen.”
The district’s lawyers said the plaintiffs attempted to characterize that speech as “immature banter.”
According to the court document, on Jan. 27, the district began receiving calls from families with concerns for student safety. The video of the Snapchat was shared throughout the school and students were openly discussing the posts in the cafeteria and classrooms.
On Jan. 28, at the Board of Education meeting, students reported they did not feel safe at school as a result of the tension created by the Snapchat messages.
Court documents also showed a number of other resulting impacts:
Students threatened a walkout.
Students and teachers wrote to administrators to say they’d heard there were supposed to be fights at basketball games against Huron and Pioneer
Another person reported information about a student who told staff she “heard rumors that someone was bringing guns” to an evening activity.
One mom told the Saline High School front office she was attending class with her daughter on Jan. 28.
One email from a high school counselor describes how one of the victims in the Snapchat group was struggling with studies as a result.
A high school counselor described one student who asked she be allowed to go a safe adult anytime he may need to.
The district’s response said the plaintiffs’ claims about discipline are untrue. The plaintiff claimed two students were suspended from after-school activities. The district asserts they can recommence activities March 9.
The plaintiffs claimed two students were recommended for expulsion. The district claims they are suspended until March 6 - the end of the trimester, and will be permitted to return to extra-curricular activities at the end of the 2019-20 academic year. It appears, however, that at least one of those students is being offered online classes and is banned from Saline Area Schools buildings without specific permission. (Note: This clarification was added Monday).
District lawyers argued the plaintiffs did not meet the standard for granting preliminary injunctive relief, that the plaintiffs’ case was unlikely to succeed because of precedent and because the district’s policies comply with the Matt Epling Safe School law, because the plaintiffs did not suffer irreparable harm, and because an injunction would arm the school district and violate public policy.
In conclusion, district lawyers argued the restraining order should be denied to keep schools safe from racial harassment because students who fear attending school cannot receive a meaningful education.