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Teen's Expulsion Over Threat OKd

Education: Federal court upholds Arkansas school district action. Boy had written a letter saying he wanted to rape and kill his ex-girlfriend.

September 26, 2002|From Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A school can expel a teenage boy who wrote a letter during summer vacation threatening to rape and murder his ex-girlfriend, a divided federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The Pulaski County school district learned of the threat after one of the eighth-grader's friends stole the letter.

Northwood Junior High principal Bob Allison expelled the boy, citing the district's conduct rules.

The boy's parents sued. A federal judge in Little Rock ruled the letter was not a true threat, concluding that the boy, identified in court papers as J.M., did not intend to communicate it to the girl.

A split panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed last year.

But in a review by the full court, judges split 6-4 on Wednesday in ruling that the district could expel the boy, who was 14 when he was expelled in 2000.

The court said a reasonable person would view the letter as a threat, particularly his ex-girlfriend, identified as K.G., and that the boy intended to communicate the threat to her because he let a friend read the letter.

"J.M.'s previous portrayal of himself as a tough guy with a propensity for aggression made his threat more credible and contributed to K.G.'s reaction," Judge David R. Hansen wrote for the majority.

In a dissent, Judge Gerald W. Heaney said that while the content of the letter was chilling, the boy wrote the letter as a private response to his breakup with the girl.

Further, Heaney wrote, the school district failed to exercise sound judgment in expelling J.M.

"The board's draconian punishment is unprecedented among the school threat cases across the nation," Heaney wrote, citing instances where children who went to court were still allowed to attend classes while the cases were pending.

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