Expelled for Expletives

May 22nd, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Should tweets involving profanity be grounds for expulsion?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Few 17-year-old high school seniors gain the national spotlight by swearing, but for one Indiana teenager, dropping one choice expletive propelled him into the middle of a free-speech debate.

According to a Huffington Post story, it was insomnia-fueled boredom that drove Austin Carroll to swear multiple times in a personal Twitter account, apparently to demonstrate to his followers that the all-purpose word would fit almost anywhere in a sentence.

He explained to Yahoo! News that his message read something like this: “BEEP is one of those BEEP words you can BEEP put anywhere in a BEEP sentence and it still BEEP make sense.”

Many people agree it’s neither responsible nor productive to use Twitter as a platform for cursing in the middle of the night, but for a high school student, it’s probably not really noteworthy, either. Carroll’s 2:30 a.m. missive, however, got him expelled from Garrett High School. The problem: even though the word wasn’t directed at anyone, and he says the message didn’t involve his school, the school contends it was sent from school property. The 600-student school sends younger students home with iPads, and older students get MacBooks to use at home.

Carroll told Fort Wayne television station WPTA that he was just trying to be funny. "If my account is on my own personal account, I don't think the school or anybody should be looking at it. Because it's my own personal stuff, and it's none of their business," he told the station.

"It was either on the school network or one of the school computers," President Tony Griffin, vice president of the Garrett-Keyser-Butler school district, told the Associated Press. "It wasn't any of his own personal network or computer that caused this."

Superintendent Dennis Stockdale told the AP that the school computer network has a federally-required filter that flags certain prohibited content, whether it's foul language or a pornographic website, any time a student or teacher posts or accesses it.

The Huffington Post notes that Indiana school officials aren’t the only ones asked to monitor students’ behavior. New Jersey legislators passed a law last year aimed at curbing cyberbullying that also compels administrators to track students' online behavior away from school.

Organizations like the National Youth Rights Organization are standing by what Carroll maintains on his Facebook page – that it was irresponsible behavior, but also that the punishment was too harsh.

But others are worried that not clamping down on expletive-laden messages in a public forum will set a precedent. One mom blogger wrote, “As a parent, I say yes, expel kids for swearing on social networking sites…because this sets an example for other kids….especially when they are using a school owned computer! Set an example public schools!!"

Where do you stand on this? Clamp down on kids, or let them say what they want on their own time? And does it really matter if they’re on school-owned or privately owned computers if the message reaches school-aged followers either way? Sound off here.