March 28, 2012 at 5:22 PM ET
Public schools can't suspend any student who casually drops the f-bomb while hanging out at the local mall, and it's not an action a school often takes when a potty-mouthed pupil does it on Twitter. At 2:30 a.m. From the privacy of his home.
But that's what happened to Austin Carroll, a 17-year-old senior at Garrett High School in Garrett, Indiana, suspended three months before graduation.
"One of my tweets was, f****** is one of those f****** words you can f****** put anywhere in a f****** sentence and it still f****** makes sense," Carroll told The Indiana NewsCenter.
For that adolescent rehash of a tired stand-up comedy routine from a jillion years ago, Carroll now gets to matriculate through an alternative high school, where he'll still receive a diploma, but none of the final senior fun (including prom) that goes with it.
"I thought it was pretty funny -- the school didn’t think so. They thought it was inappropriate," he told the INC.
Can't it be both?
Not when those f-bombs are dropped on a school-issued computer, which is what the school told Carroll's mom, Pam Smith.
Carroll contends the tweets came from his personal computer. His mom, however, was told, after a check of the home networking logs, that the tweets come from the school's computer, reports the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. "She said she was told that if Carroll had his school laptop running, it would appear the tweet came from the school computer."
Indeed. While school Superintendent Dennis Stockdale wouldn't comment on the individual case, he did tell the Journal Gazette that "the school has never disciplined and will not discipline students for anything they tweet or put online using their own computer, on their own time, and outside the school’s network." We reached out to both Carroll and Garrett High School and will update this story when we hear back.
Surely then Carroll isn't the only kid to post something "inappropriate" on a school-issued computer. That's the opinion of Carroll's mom, who told the Journal Gazette she believes her son is being targeted for previous run-ins with school officials over noxious tweets.
“They need to go on every student and staff member’s computer and review them,” she said. "They'll find plenty of stuff."
Hatchet job or not, Carroll did cross into free speech territories that are tough to defend if he did indeed use the school computer. ACLU attorney Aden Fine told me that "the courts are just starting to grapple with this issue, and the (U.S.) Supreme Court hasn't yet made clear what can and can't be punished in school."
While the ACLU is not involved in this incident, Aden added that such cases involving punishment of student behavior outside of school present a very slippery slope. "What kids say while they're not at school is not the school's business, that's for parents to decide," Fine said. "That's the way it's been for hundredsof hundreds of hundreds of years."