Expelled for using the N-word? Sue the school.

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.


Marist participates in the 2012 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade (John W. Iwanski / Flickr CC)

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.

Relevant sections, Marist Student Handbook

Marist Student Handbook, January 2016:

[p. 18] Any student caught tampering with fire alarms, fire extinguishers or any other fire equipment may be expelled from school.

[p. 19] D. Student Behavior

Since Marist students are expected to show Christian consideration and concern for all in the school community, the code of conduct is intended to provide the students, their parents/guardians, and the faculty an understanding of the behavior patterns expected of students and the procedures used in maintaining that standard of conduct. In light of this, any misconduct on the part of the student, such as: disrespect or discourtesy towards school personnel, visitors, or other students; immature and inappropriate conduct; vulgarity; classroom disruption; leaving the school campus; littering the school building and grounds; inappropriate behavior in the study hall, ARC, Cafetorium, or corridors; and any other behavior warranting disciplinary action will not be tolerated. Depending on the severity of inappropriate behavior, Marist High School reserves the right to expel or ask for parental withdrawal without a Disciplinary Review.

1. Severe Disciplinary Cases

The following behavior may result in immediate suspension and possible expulsion from school: possession or drinking of alcoholic beverages; possession, use, sale or distribution of drugs, drug paraphernalia or alcohol; possession or use of a weapon or any replica of a weapon; defiance of faculty authority; intent to do bodily harm; theft; fighting; hate crimes; setting false alarms; bomb threats; inciting mob action; extortion; gambling; intimidation; harassment; inappropriate sexual conduct; cyber-bullying; damaging school property; vandalism; unauthorized possession and/or use of school forms; and unauthorized use of computers, the internet, radios, tape recorders, sound equipment or cameras without proper authorization.

a) Marist High School reserves the right to request a breathalyzer test of any student suspected of being under the influence of alcohol. A student who refuses to take a breathalyzer test is presumed to be under the influence of alcohol, and appropriate measures will be taken.

b) Marist High School regards any type of disruption to the educational environment as completely unacceptable. Severe disciplinary measures including parental withdrawal and expulsion may be the result of any student related or senior pranks. Any students involved in this type of behavior will be subject to the loss of all school privileges and the possibility of expulsion and parental withdrawal.

NOTE: The Administration of Marist High School reserves the right to deny credit for class work in cases involving suspensions.

2. Discipline Procedures

Disciplinary problems may be handled through one of the procedures listed below:

a. Student/Teacher Conference

When a student’s behavior becomes a problem in school, the teacher/supervisor will point out the problem in behavior, the change which is expected of the student, and the procedure that will be followed if the student’s behavior does not improve.

b. Detention/Referral to Dean of Students

The student will be given detention and/or referred to the Dean of Students. Any student asked to leave class is to report immediately to the dean’s office and will not be permitted back into class on that day. The student will receive a three hour detention. The second time a student is asked to leave class, the parents may be notified.

(1) Informal Detention

A teacher may have a student report to him/her at the teacher’s convenience for correction of misconduct. If a student fails to show up for an informal detention, the student will not be allowed back into class the following day unless there is a logical explanation for the failure to be present.

(2) Formal Detention

Formal detention is conducted Monday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. and from 7:00 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. Detention may be a mandatory study hall where students must bring academic materials to the detention room and be actively working on academics during the detention. Detention may also be work/service to the school. The teacher presents to the student a detention slip which states the reason for the detention. The students have the option of serving the detention the day it is received or within the next five (5) school days. Parents may be contacted after the second missed detention. Saturday detentions are held at the discretion of the Dean’s office. Students must report to the Dean of Students for special considerations.

After school employment and/or extracurricular activities are not sufficient reason for missing detention.

c. Suspension

Suspension may be imposed by the Dean of Students. Suspensions result in the loss of school privileges and school-related activities on the day, night or weekend of the suspension. All suspensions are external or out of school.

An out of school suspension is a suspension in which the student is put in the care of the parent during the suspension period.

A conference with the student and his or her parents/guardian(s) may be a condition for re-admission after suspension.

Additionally, a student will serve 12 hours of detention on consecutive days in conjunction with the detention. A suspended student is personally responsible for assignments and to learn the subject matter covered in his or her classes during the suspension from class. The suspended student receives a discretionary failing grade on any homework, quizzes and assessments that were missed as a result of the suspension.

[p. 20] d. Disciplinary Review

When the Dean of Students has determined that sufficient grounds exist, a Disciplinary Review may be conducted. The Dean of Students and/or the Principal will conduct the review. They will meet with the student and his or her parents/guardians normally within five school days after notification of all parties concerned. The student will remain out of school until the case is reviewed and a decision is made. All appeals should be directed to the office of the Principal .

(1) Disciplinary Probation. Disciplinary Probation may be imposed by the Dean of Students, with the approval of the Principal, when a student has seriously and/or continually violated existing school rules and regulations. The length of the discretionary probation period is left to the discretion of the Dean of Students.

When a student has been given a disciplinary probation notice, he or she must keep in mind that another serious breach of the disciplinary code or a series of minor offenses will lead to more severe disciplinary action and that all offenses against the disciplinary code are viewed more seriously. Disciplinary probation is in addition to any other punishment imposed by the administration, such as, detention, suspension, etc. The Dean of Students decides whether a student on disciplinary probation may participate in school sponsored trips, proms or other activities.

(2) Parental Withdrawal. In the case of a parental withdrawal, the Administration of Marist High School requests that the parent withdraw the student from Marist in order to avoid stated expulsion on an official transcript. All outstanding bills at Marist High School must be paid before transcripts can be sent.

(3) Expulsion. Any student who has seriously damaged the reputation of the school and/or whose conduct indicates that he or she seriously disturbs the physical or moral welfare of the student body could be expelled.

(4) Appeals. All appeals related to parental withdrawal or expulsion are handled by the Principal’s office. Appeals will be granted at the discretion of the Principal.

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.”

Statement on Marist High School's website

Marist released a statement following the incident:

This evening Marist High School was made aware of a racially charged post on social media involving Marist students. We are devastated by this situation. Disciplinary action is being taken.

Marist is a diverse community, made better and stronger by that diversity. As a school community, we continually work so that each student feels welcome, valued, and safe.

We have been and will continue to engage with diverse student leaders to give a voice to all students and to focus on shared values.

Given the tenuous times we all are living in, and recent events nearby Marist High School, our mission to make Jesus known and loved is more pertinent than ever. As always, the safety of our students is of utmost importance.

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.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.