ACLU Challenges Expulsion for Cellphone Use

September 01, 2009 1 min read

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up the case of a middle school student who was expelled from his Mississippi school after using his cellphone in a class. In a lawsuit against the DeSoto County School District and several school officials, the ACLU claims Richard Wade’s constitutional rights were violated during the 2008 incident at Southaven Middle School, when he was 12.

Richard violated school policy when he took out his phone during gym class to read a text message from his father. After school officials took the phone they searched its photo files, according to the lawsuit. School leaders concluded that some photos Richard had of himself stored on the phone showed “gang-related activity.” The student said they were simply photos he took of himself dancing in his bathroom.

The 7th grade honors student was expelled for a year. The lawsuit charges that Richard’s constitutional protection against unnecessary search and seizure and his free speech rights were violated. The district, in a statement, said: “Students know that if they break the rules, their cellphone will be confiscated and that school officials reserve the right to look through the cellphone to see if they were cheating on a test or conducting illegal activities related to gangs or drugs.”

Here’s some coverage of the incident from the Commercial Appeal, which drew nearly 100 comments from readers.

The ACLU, which is asking that the incident be cleared from Richard’s academic and disciplinary records, issued a statement this week:

“This is a case where an honor student was expelled from school because a police officer and school officials decided without any basis that innocent pictures of a kid dancing conveyed ‘gang-related’ messages,” said Reginald T. Shuford, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “School officials and the police officer involved never pointed to anything that would suggest that pictures of Richard dancing were linked to a gang in any way.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


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