A federal judge must decide whether to dismiss a lawsuit claiming Colerain High School and the Northwest Local School District violated the free speech rights of four students "when they suspended and expelled them for participating in rap music videos and displaying hip-hop hand gestures in photographs taken outside of school hours and posted to personal social media accounts." The lawsuit also alleges discrimination on the basis of race.
The 57-page complaint begins by stating:
"It is not a crime to be an African-American teenager. Yet, on April 10, 2014, Colerain High School administrators in coordination with Colerain Township police officers acted as if it were when they rounded up African-American students, held them in a windowless room guarded by armed police officers for upwards of six hours and interrogated them about their social media postings and affiliations with other African-American youth."
The federal lawsuit asks for damages and for the district to immediately delete the disciplinary actions from the Plaintiffs' academic records.
The parents, in a news conference, said they had trouble getting answers from the district and are surprised by allegations made by the school and police that their kids were in gangs.
Teressa Heath says her son has never been in any gangs, is an "A" student who has never been in trouble. She says the federal lawsuit is a last resort after the district wouldn't give her specifics this summer. "Instead of me just enjoying the time with him and he enjoying his vacation, we've been hearings after hearings, appeals after appeals, and nothing is happening in our favor."
Heath's son has since transferred to Fairfield. Other parents, including Michael Packnett, whose son is also an "A" student, say the Colerain allegations can be traced back to hearsay and race.
What the school says
School attorney John Concannon says the video, pictures and gang allegations had nothing to do with why the students were suspended and expelled. He says, "What they were disciplined for was their threatening activity towards other students on campus, through social media, also face to face on campus and through social media."
Concannon also says:
- State law was followed
- Students were given a chance to tell their side of the story
- During the questioning one student "attempted to attack one of the female administrators"
- The students are now welcome to be part of the school community again now that the suspensions and expulsions are over