INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the Independence School District after the district banned a senior from participating in graduation because of a Craiglist ad prank.
Friday afternoon, a judge ruled in favor of the school district. After the judge’s verdict, a district spokesperson said the senior will not walk during Saturday’s ceremony.
The Independence School District suspended Scheele for three days and banned him from attending graduation due to what they considered to be an “implied” threat; the 18-year-old wrote the school was for sale because of the “loss of students coming up.”
“I decided to say the reason we’re selling this is because of ‘the loss of students,’ because the senior class is graduating,” Scheele said Wednesday.
The ACLU of Missouri spoke out in support of the senior on Thursday, arguing the district’s “disproportionately harsh punishment violates Scheele’s free speech rights and also does a public disservice by discouraging young people from exercising their constitutional right to express themselves.”
On Thursday, the ACLU urged the school district to respond by 10 a.m. Friday. When the district didn’t, the organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of the senior.
“In the hometown of U.S. President Harry Truman and in a place named after one of our nation’s key principles, ‘freedom,’ we hope that the district reconsiders its position and encourages the freedom of speech of our nation’s next generation of leaders,” Tony Rothert, legal director for ACLU of Missouri, said in a news release. “There is still time for the district to do the right thing and allow Kylan to walk across that stage.”
A district spokesperson said a parent contact local police about the ad, concerned about their student’s safety. The Independence Police Department requested two subpoenas to determine who created and posted the ad, which the court granted.
According to the district spokesperson, the police report said, “Given the nature of the post, the Independence Police Department was treating this as a very serious threat.”
The police report also said: “I also informed Scheele that due to recent school shootings there was a concern that the posted ad could have alluded to something happening at the school before or during graduation. Scheele agreed with that given the circumstances.”
The district said the Craiglist ad caused concerns and substantial disruptions at school, and multiple parents contacted the district and checked their kids out of school.
“The clear substantial and material disruption served as the basis for the suspension,” the district spokesperson said.
Thousands of people online have expressed that the school district went too far.
There’s now a petition with more than 2,000 supporters calling for the district to reverse its decision. One supporter even plans to protest outside of the high school on Friday at noon.
“If they wanted to silence him, I think they probably had the opposite effect because other students are out there saying ‘we’ve done this,’ some are saying ‘we’ve done worse,’” Scheele’s mother, Denetra Clark, said Thursday. “We have no words to describe how amazing it is to know our city, our community, our metropolitan area has so many people who just want to see him succeed.”
FOX4 talked with several parents who have children in the school district. Many of them thought the punishment was unfair.
“He didn’t actually hurt another student,” Rachel Powell said. “He didn’t bully or pick on anybody and that’s our biggest problem — the bully issue — not some kid who posts on Craigslist.”
“Some of the teachers weren’t aware of it until they showed them today in class and they were caught off guard as well,” Angie Day, whose son attends Truman High, said.
Day admitted she giggled at the post and thought it was clever, but she said she supports the district’s decision.
“It just goes to show you, you need to think things through,” Day added. “Have somebody with another perspective read what you put out there.”