Fifth-grader’s drawing ends up in federal court
B. C. was 10 years-old and in the fifth grade at Berea Elementary School in New York. His science teacher handed out pictures of an astronaut and told the students to complete the pictures by writing a “wish” in the astronaut’s leg. The teacher became impatient with questions about the assignment and reportedly told them to write about “anything” and “write about missiles.”
Using a crayon for the assignment, B. C. wrote “blow up the school with the teachers in it.” He showed it to a few friends who laughed. No evidence was presented that the drawing caused a stir or disruption at school. However, the school suspended B. C. for six days (five out-of-school days and one in-school suspension day). His parents disagreed with the discipline and sued the school district for violating their son’s freedom of expression.
A federal trial court ruled against B. C. and his parents in 2010. They took a further appeal and in March, 2012, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the school in a 2-1 decision.* The majority held that schools have “wide leeway” to punish students for threatening violence and that it was reasonably foreseeable that B. C.’s drawing could cause a substantial disruption.
Judge Rosemary Pooler disagreed and wrote a dissenting opinion. She said “I am convinced that a jury could find that this young boy’s crude attempt at humor merely had the potential to cause mild amusement among his classmates–not alarm. . . . I believe that a jury could conclude that this young child’s stab at humor barely had the potential to cause a stir at school, let alone a substantial disruption.”
B. C. and his parents may decide to appeal the decision to the U. S. Supreme Court.
What do you think? How would the Supreme Court rule if they accept B. C.’s case? Do you think what he wrote constituted a threat to the school or would have met the Tinker test of “material or substantial disruption” to the campus?
*Cuff v. Valley Central School District (Second Circuit Ct. of App., March 22, 2012).