The parents of a ninth-grader attending Central York High School have sued the school district for allegedly infringing on their son's right to free speech, according to court documents.
Michael and Jill Lordan, of Manchester Township, claim their son was wrongfully suspended and subsequently expelled for a Facebook post following a bomb threat at the school in October.
The 15-year-old student, identified as R.L. in court documents, posted a status on Facebook following the bomb threat of Oct. 23 that said, "Plot twist: They don't find the bomb and it goes off tomorrow."
The school building had been evacuated around 9:30 a.m. and students were sent home around 11:30 a.m. that morning. The lawsuit says the student posted the status off campus after the dismissal.
The lawsuit, filed March 11, names the district, high school assistant principal Jeffrey Hamme, and superintendent Michael Snell as playing a part in "exceeding authority" for the off-grounds, out-of-school conduct of the ninth-grader.
School district officials and Springettsbury Township police became aware of the Facebook post on the afternoon following the bomb threat, according to court documents. The district contacted Michael Lordon, who agreed to meet Snell at his son's football game at Red Lion High School that night.
According to the documents the student agreed his actions were "ill-timed" when he talked with Snell.
Expulsion: The next morning, Oct. 24, Michael and Jill Lordan received an email from the district saying their son was suspended from school for 10 days for a "terroristic or bomb threat."
That same morning the student and his parents met with Springettsbury Township police detectives and the chief, who determined the student was not involved in the original threat. No charges were filed against the student, court documents said.
Following a disciplinary hearing Nov. 6, the student was expelled for an additional 13 days and was not permitted on school grounds or to participate in school activities from Oct. 24 until Dec. 3.
The suit says the student had no history of discipline in the school district and was posting an ill-timed but sarcastic post about the bomb threat incident.
The student had used similar "plot twist" updates on Facebook and Twitter in the past, court documents attest, including a tweet during the school's active intruder drill about a week before the bomb threat occurred. At that time, the district noticed the tweet, but did not confront the student about it, according to the lawsuit.
The family is seeking damages and also claims their son's discipline and attendance records should be restored so they leave no harmful mark on his permanent school record, according to court documents. In addition, the lawsuit asks the district to rework its policies to "eliminate unconstitutionally vague policies and/or rules which may have a chilling effect on the protected expression of students."
District response: The school district has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit and plans to do so, said Michael King, the attorney representing the district through Stock and Leader.
King said the district was within its rights to mete out the punishment, saying the First Amendment also does not protect people from yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. "We believe that it should be equally clear that there is no right to 'joke' about a bomb going off 'tomorrow' at the high school," King said in a statement via email.
The Facebook post also caused "understandable apprehension" in the school community, the statement said, and caused the district to call the Springettsbury Township police department to conduct a second investigation following a full canine sweep of the building in the morning.
"We plan to bring a vigorous defense to the complaint and are confident we will prevail on all claims," added Julie Romig, spokeswoman for the district.
- Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.