Missouri students sue school district for punishing them over slavery petition

Missouri students sue school district for punishing them over slavery petition
The students are seeking reinstatement and unspecified damages

Four students who were disciplined for a “petition” they allegedly posted online seeking to bring slavery back are suing their Kansas City school district for what they believe are civil rights violations.

The strange situation began when a pair of students – one biracial, and one Black – began bantering on social media. The petition was reportedly posted as part of their back and forth, according to a federal lawsuit filed on Friday.

According to The Associated Press, the petition picked up traction online when other students began reacting to the post. National media coverage followed.

In response to the posting, the biracial student was expelled and three other students who commented on the post were suspended for 180 days. All of the students involved are ninth graders and play for the school’s football team, according to local news outlet KCUR. The Black student was not punished.

According to the lawsuit, the students are suing the Park Hill School District Board of Education, the district superintendent, and the district’s director of student services. It claims the defendants violated the students’ First Amendment, due process and equal protection rights.

The students are seeking reinstatement and to have the incident removed from their school records, along with unspecified punitive and actual damages.

Arthur Benson II, the attorney representing the students, said that the teenagers meant and caused no harm with their speech, and called the response to the post an over-reaction by adults.

“Fourteen-year-olds sometimes unwisely shoot their mouths off, instantly regretting it but causing no harm, no disruption,” he said. “But here it was adults who unwisely over-reacted, causing the disruptions and they are now trying to strip these boys of their entire ninth grades.”

The district has defended its actions, with a spokeswoman saying the school took “prompt, decisive action to enforce our policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and uncivil behaviour.”

She said the district would provide further details on its stance when it responds to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims that the school’s push for an inclusive code of conduct rendered any kind of racialised bantering as punishable offences.

The filing claimed that the school’s policies made it difficult for the students to “navigate their conduct between the pulls of a peer culture that valued racialized bantering and the adult expectations of a school code that prohibited most forms of racial or ethnic descriptions and banter as punishable offenses.”

Two of the students who were punished are white, and another is white and Asian.

After the petition generated complaints from parents, the school’s principal, Kerrie Herren, sent an email to the families of the school’s students addressing the post. Reporting on the post led the district superintendent to notify the school community, which drove further reporting.