Was his tweet a bullying act, or merely the stating of a fact?
Either way, reports the Wichita Eagle, the senior class president of Heights High School in Kansas has been suspended and banned from participating in most of this year’s graduation activities after posting a tweet about the school’s athletic program.
“‘Heights U’ is equivalent to WSU’s football team,” 18-year-old Wesley Teague wrote last Thursday on his personal Twitter account.
The phrase "Heights U," the paper explains, was "coined" by underclassmen who "sometimes use the hashtag #HeightsU on tweets about Falcon football or other athletic endeavors." WSU refers to the now-defunct Wichita State University football squad.
Several students complained about the tweet, and administration officials, agreeing it was disrespectful, sent a letter to Teague’s home that said he had “acted to incite a disturbance.” It informed his parents he had been suspended.
“Wesley posted some very inappropriate tweets about the Heights athletic teams, aggressively disrespecting many athletes,” reads a portion of the letter. “After reading the tweets and taking statements from other students it was found that Wesley acted to incite the majority of our Heights athletes.”
Teague told the Eagle, “It’s completely unfair, and I just think it’s a joke,”
In fact, said Teague—who's a member of the Heights High School track team—he wasn’t mocking the quality of his school’s athletic programs. Rather, he said, he was mocking the hashtag #HeightsU.
“It’s a 100 percent truthful tweet, and it wasn’t meant to offend a single person or group of people," Teague said. "I only meant that ‘Heights U’ doesn’t exist because it doesn’t. We’re not a university.”
Before the incident, members of the school’s faculty had personally selected Teague to deliver a speech at the senior breakfast and convocation ceremony. Now, he’s barred from even attending.
School Assistant Principal Monique Arndt said Teague violated a school policy that prohibits “bullying in any form.”
And even if that judgment is questionable, there's no denying that public schools have been placed in a difficult position of monitoring their students' communication on social media sites while simultaneously not eroding their First Amendment rights.
According to the Stop Cyberbullying website, schools should post social media guidelines for students in order to properly walk that fine line between enforcing student conduct and getting into the weeds of constitutional issues.
Teague’s mother said her son has been anything but antagonistic toward the school’s athletic program. She noted that she spoke with the school principal and plans to appeal the suspension.
“His main goal was to increase school spirit," Kristin Teague told the Eagle. "He went to soccer games, volleyball games. He’s been very supportive of the athletic teams. He tried out for basketball his sophomore year and didn’t make it, but he was on the front row cheering for those kids every game. … He’s been their Number One supporter.”
Since the incident, Teague has continued to post regularly to his Twitter account. He said he would like to retain a lawyer to help with his appeal, but cannot afford one. "All this is becoming overwhelming ... but I got it," he wrote.