• 8th-grade hacker’s suspension upheld

    Date: 03.21.11 | by Judge Tom.

    Derek Harris went to South Pontotoc Middle School in Mississippi. His mother worked as a secretary at the elementary school which was on the same campus.

    Derek had use of a computer in class and would occasionally use his mother’s computer in her office. In September, 2008, he sent an e-mail to his computer teacher telling her he had hacked into her computer. In the same e-mail, he wrote that he was only joking. Two weeks later, he sent her another e-mail. This time he told her that the school’s computer system might be vulnerable to an attack.

    Don Hankins

    An investigation was quickly undertaken. At first, Derek blamed the hacking on a student at a nearby high school. He later admitted bypassing the security on a school computer and using his mother’s computer to send e-mails, both violations of the school’s Acceptable Use Policy. Derek was suspended but was allowed to attend an alternative school in the district. His mother was re-assigned to a position where she didn’t have access to a school computer. The district later dismissed her.

    Derek and his parents sued the school district and superintendent. They claimed that Derek was denied his right to due process – an opportunity to defend himself and explain his actions. His mother claimed her dismissal was retaliation against her for exercising her right to free speech in criticizing the way the school handled this situation.

    In March, 2011, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied Derek and his mother’s claims.* The court found that there were no due process violations, that Derek and his parents had ample opportunity to respond to the charges.

    *Harris v. Pontontoc County School District, 2011 WL 814972 (C.A. 5, March 10, 2011)

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    2 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Oklahoma City Divorce Attorney Matt Ingham
      Thu, 07 Jul 2011 at 07:30

      Hacking into the school’s computer system is a quick and easy way to get yourself into a lot of trouble very fast…my experience when dealing with school administrators on this issue is that they take a very ‘black and white’ approach when handling the issue and when punishing the perpetrator.

    • Vicki
      Tue, 02 Aug 2011 at 03:18

      Derek went too far. He might have just been having fun, but there are some lines that you just don’t cross.

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