8th-grade hacker’s suspension upheld
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.
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)