Updated: Friday, 30 Oct 2009, 5:52 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 29 Oct 2009, 11:05 PM EDT
CHURUBUSCO, Ind. (WANE) - A northern Indiana school district is facing a lawsuit over the way it handled the punishment of two student-athletes who posted racy pictures of themselves on their MySpace pages.
The suit stems from a summer sleep-over, where two sophomore girls took sexually suggestive photos and then posted them to their MySpace pages. MySpace is a social networking site. After the pictures were posted, someone printed them out, and then gave them to the high school principal when school was back in session.
What happened from there is what the ACLU classifies as "unconstitutional."
Couch suspended both girls from sports at Churubusco High School for one year. The school corporation said the girls violated the Indiana High School Athletic Association code of conduct that the school applies to it's student-athletes. It obligates student-athletes uphold a higher standard of moral and ethical values when representing the school.
"Our athletes travel to surrounding schools, our conference schools, and represent [Churubusco] High School and they represent the community," said Smith-Green Community School Corporation Superintendent Steve Darnell. "We certainly want the best behavior to represent our school."
The girls' suspensions were later reduced to 25% of the volleyball season, in exchange for participation in counseling, and a public apology to the school's athletic board.
Legal Director for the ACLU of Indiana Kenneth Falk said the girls' first amendment rights were violated with the punishment handed down.
"Students, not in school, have a right to communicate and this is how people communicate today," said Falk in a phone interview Thursday night. "We cannot start looking through those communications, which are clearly expressions... protected by the 1st Amendment. We can't start policing them."
Falk asked theoretically, what if the behavior in question would've been text messages, or even conversations?
"Can the student be punished for that? Where do you draw the line?" questioned Falk.
"We stand behind Mr. Couch and the decisions that were made at the high school," said Darnell. "We think [our policies] are the best to keep all kids safe and that's what we tried to accomplish in this."
The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court, describes the pictures taken. It says "the girls took pictures of themselves pretending to kiss or lick a large multi-colored novelty phallus-shaped lollipop that they had purchased as well as pictures of themselves in lingerie with dollar bills stuck in their clothes."
"I saw those pictures, and I don't agree with them," said Stacey Bonar, a parent of a Churubusco teen. "I'm not so sure I agree with the school taking that kind of measure with kids."
Opinions on this issue vary greatly, even within married couples. Bonar's husband, Curt finds himself with a differing point of view than his wife.
"[The student-athlete code] is all year round. It's not just during the season," said Curt Bonar. "[School officials] hold [student-athletes] to a higher standard and they all know the rules."
The school has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit filed against it.
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