The punishment was in response to a racist petition to “bring back slavery” created by two freshmen football players from Park Hill South while on a bus riding to a game this fall.
One student was expelled, and three others were suspended for the remainder of the school year.
According to the federal lawsuit, the students said they were “joking” about slavery and needing a job. One of the students typed a three-word “petition” onto change.org stating, “start slavery again.”
In a response to the lawsuit filed in court by the school district, some football players on the bus didn’t consider the petition a joke. One player took a screenshot of the petition and shared it. The filing states that overnight the petition “caused massive disruption” to Park Hill South, as well as the rest of the school district.
Court documents state some Park Hill South students were scared for their lives after learning about the petition. In the filing, the school’s principal said substitute teachers refused to fill in at the high school, and professional development time was spent on teachers’ concerns about the petition instead of improving academic performance.
The filing also stated that Park Hill South pulled students from classes to hold assemblies to allow students to discuss the impact of the petition and process their feelings.
Park Hill South’s principal said he and the assistant principals spent more than 300 hours dealing with the fallout of the petition, according to court documents.
The district also argued in the filing that the lengthy suspensions do not violate the students First Amendment rights because the petition was created while on a school activity. The response claims schools have a right to discipline students for racially charged expression that is “reasonably forecast to cause a material disruption.”
The federal lawsuit filed by the students’ parents claims the teenagers will suffer irreparable harm if the court denies their request for a restraining order that would allow them to return to school.
The district said it is coordinating with Missouri Connections Academy so the students can attend classes online for the remainder of the school year. According to the district, each student will receive credit for the classes they take, which will count toward graduation requirements, therefore the students will not be harmed by the punishment.
The district also argues in the court filing that if the students were allowed to return to Park Hill South, it would disrupt the chaos the district has spent time trying to stop.
It is not known when a ruling will be made about the lawsuit.