Saline students sue school district over discipline for racist Snapchat conversation

Lawsuit claims school leaders have no authority to discipline students in this instance

SALINE, Mich. – The lawsuit against Saline Area Schools is 25 pages long.

It was filed in federal court on Tuesday. David A. Kallman, the lawyer for four Saline High School students, who are remaining anonymous, is arguing the school district has no authority to suspend or expel the students after allegations of racist comments made on Snapchat.

“The Snapchat did not occur on school grounds or campus, with school property, at a school-sponsored event or field trip, nor was it connected to any functions of the school in any way,” reads the lawsuit.

That Snapchat conversation among students started an uproar in the beginning. A group of students was using racial slurs and phrases. The students’ lawyer acknowledges the messages in the Snapchat conversation were inappropriate and immature.

“It was the parents, however, who had the right to discipline their children, not the government authorities employed by the school,” the lawsuit reads.

This Snapchat has been the catalyst for anti-racism marches and meetings in the city of Saline. The city has garnered national attention after one man said this to a father discussing his son being targeted:

“So why didn’t you stay in Mexico?”

The lawsuit is against the school district and various leaders of the district and high school. It asks for complete expungement of this, policy changes, attorney fees covered, and a declaration that the school’s acts were unconstitutional.

Two of the students involved in the lawsuit were suspended but are back at school. The other two students appear to be facing expulsion.

More from the lawsuit

The lawsuit states all four children are “successful students at the high school and none have ever been disciplined, suspended, or expelled by the school prior to the incident leading to this complaint.”

Here’s how the suit describes the Snapchat conversation:

"On Sunday evening, January 26, 2020, a private snap chat group was formed by two other minor children who are close friends. One child was African-American and one was Caucasian. Eventually Defendants disciplined the Caucasian child, but he is not a party to this action ... (the four plaintiffs), who are all Caucasian, were later added to the snap chat group.

Other students were also added to the snap chat group, including both African American and Caucasian children. In the course of their conversation, many of the children, both African-American and Caucasian, used inappropriate language that included offensive terms like the 'N’ word and various abbreviations of that word, ‘white power,’ and ‘the South will rise again.’ There was also a longer quote from Chris Rock included that used the 'N’ word.

In the course of their conversation, many of the children, both African-American and Caucasian, used inappropriate ‘memes’ or pictures that included offensive terms like the 'N' word and various abbreviations of that word. One of the African-American children jokingly suggested that everyone on the chat say the 'N’ word at the same time to stop racism and many of the children did so.

While Plaintiffs do not excuse the use of such language, the intent and understood usage of these offensive terms was in the context of immature banter between friends and in a joking manner.

The initial children on the snap chat understood this to be the intent. When a person leaves a snap chat group, everything that person said or posted is immediately erased, leaving only the texts or images posted by the remaining members in the group. After a number of the African-American children logged off the snap chat, another African-American child joined the group late and was therefore unable to see the prior postings by the other African-American children. The late-arriving African-American student saw the posts by the Caucasian children and recorded a video of the snap chat. This African-American child immediately publicly posted the video of the snap chat, discussed what he had seen, and used the 'N' word himself, while discussing his short involvement in the conversation."

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