The fathers of two senior girls expelled from a Catholic high school in Chicago for texting racially insensitive comments are suing the school, claiming their daughters’ right to due process was violated, the Chicago Tribune reports.
As far as we can determine, the following facts are undisputed:
The two expelled girls had attended Marist High School on Chicago’s southwest side for three school years, when their class went on a retreat called Kairos in September, which is a common activity among Catholic high school students in the region. The Kairos retreat is “a multi-day spiritual awakening activity sponsored by the Catholic Church for high school and college-age youth,” according to Reference.com. Its purpose is “to help the participants contemplate their relationship with God, discover their own identity and build stronger bonds with their peers.”
At the retreat this year, about 30 of the students formed a text-messaging circle and have group-texted using that circle, including messages related to their lives in high school.
Chicago police shot Joshua Beal, a 25-year-old black man from Indianapolis, in November in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood, where Marist is located. #BlackLivesMatter and pro-police protests followed the shooting, and several students in the text-messaging circle reacted, fearing that the protests would have a negative impact on their lives at school.
One screenshot from the series of texts got posted to Twitter and made its way to school officials. The image of the text shows a message that says, “I f— hate n—s.” Several students were suspended and the two girls in the lawsuit expelled, based on a conduct code violation supported by a Twitter image of a text-message exchange.
Marist is a private high school and, because of that, not subject to many of the protections students would enjoy at a public high school, including free speech. Students pay tuition to attend Marist and students don’t have an automatic “entitlement” to an education at the school, as they would at a public high school.
Other assertions are in dispute:
The school expelled the girls “without any formal charges of misconduct, without hearing plaintiffs’ explanation of their comments, and without any formal disciplinary process,” the Tribune quoted Steven Glink, the fathers’ attorney, as saying about the pending litigation. School officials would not comment on the record about the case.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim the image of the texts was altered somehow by another student who has “a personal vendetta” against the girls. The doctored image, not the original screenshot, was posted to Twitter, plaintiffs claim. The girls, they argue, have been deprived of the education they paid for as a result of that false information. The school, in other words, jumped to the erroneous conclusion that the girls who were suspended had even uttered in a text message the racial epithet and words of hatred.
They also claim, WBBM-TV (CBS affiliate) reported, that their reputations have been “maligned” and that they have been “labeled as racist, and used as scapegoats by Marist to respond to an array of social media criticisms and media pressure.”
Racism is not tolerated at many private schools, although other racially charged incidents made by students at this school, at least one of which involved a black student’s threat to kill white people, were met not with an expulsion but with counseling. But students at private schools routinely face zero-tolerance effects from offending outbursts—and even, honestly, for conduct “violations” that don’t offend or threaten anyone.
Because of the obvious disparity in discipline practices used by the school, “Plaintiffs’ discipline by defendants is grossly disproportional to the African American student’s consequences for his comments,” the complaint states. “By comparison, the comments made by the minor plaintiffs were, at most, racially insensitive.”
Again, students have absolutely no entitlement to an education at a private school like Marist, except that they paid for it in this case. But even if the First Amendment covered institutions like Marist, the US doesn’t classify hate speech as protected speech.
The plaintiffs are suing the school for the ability to return and finish out their senior year or, if they can’t get that, for $65,000 in previously paid tuition and $1 million in damages. The principal of the school, Larry Tucker, has also been named in the lawsuit.