Profanity laced threats by school rapper not protected by 1st Amendment

A Mississippi federal district court summarily dismissed a case against a school district and its officials for disciplining a student who had posted an invective and threat-filled rap song on his Facebook page and on YouTube. Taylor Bell, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, composed, sang, and recorded a rap song that he then posted on to Facebook so that it could be viewed by his over 1,300 Facebook friends and then went on to publish the song on YouTube. The vulgar song accuses two of the school’s coaches of having inappropriate contact with underage female students. According to court documents, “the last two verses include the phrases:(1) ‘looking down girls’ shirts / drool running down your mouth / messing with wrong one / going to get a pistol down your mouth’ and (2) ‘middle fingers up if you can’t stand that nigga / middle fingers up if you want to cap that nigga.’”

Taylor Bell, former Itawamba High School student

In Bell v. Itawamba County School Board, Judge Neal Biggers upheld the seven day suspension and administrative transfer levied by the school upon discovering the song. Applying the Tinker standard, the court found that

Taylor Bell’s song caused a material and/or substantial disruption and it was reasonably foreseeable that such a disruption would occur. The song is not protected by the First Amendment, and the school did not err in punishing Bell for publishing it to the public. Therefore, Taylor Bell’s claim that his First Amendment rights were violated by the school should be dismissed with prejudice.

This is another in string of federal cases where student off-campus speech has been held actionable by the courts. Under Tinker, “conduct by a student, in class or out of it” which “materially disrupt classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.” The court noted that Tinker‘s material or substantial disruption standard has been expanded to allow speech to be regulated where such issues are only foreseeable, not having yet occurred.

In reaching its holding the court applied the following test:

(1) whether Taylor Bell’s song caused or tended to cause a material and/or substantial disruption at school or (2) whether it was reasonably foreseeable to school officials that the song would cause a material and/or substantial disruption at school.

Applying this test, the court found that the song had created actual disruption at the school. Coach Wildmon, one of the coaches about whom the song was penned, first heard about it while teaching his class. His wife had learned and heard of the song and texted him from her cell phone. Upon receiving the text, the coach turned to three seniors sitting in his class and asked if they had heard the song. Replying affirmatively, one of the students played the song for him using his cell phone. The coach testified that he felt threatened by the lyrics threatening to kill him in the song and that his “teaching style had been adversely affected” due to his belief that now students suspected him of inappropriate behavior.

The court also found that disruption was foreseeable where a

public high school student’s song (1) that levies charges of serious sexual misconduct against two teachers using vulgar and threatening language and (2) is published on to at least 1,300 “friends,” many of whom are fellow students, and the unlimited internet audience on, would cause a material and substantial disruption at school.

Gregory R. Branch is an educational attorney in Orange County, California. If you feel that your child has been unconstitutionally disciplined for exercising their right to free speech, please contact Mr. Branch at or at (714) 856-1166.

Celebrities taking up anti-bullying cause

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in some tropical island somewhere, and if the latter is the case, lucky you!) you are aware how severe a situation bullying has become not only in our schools, but more recently in our homes.

Bullying today has become such a prevalent problem, that celebrities today have not been shy about jumping on the “anti-bullying” bandwagon.  Celebrities from Ellen DeGeneres to Anne Hathaway to Justin Bieber have taken a stand to speak out against bullying.
Continue reading on Celebrities join the war against bullying! – Anaheim relationship counseling |

Michele Branch and her husband Greg have teamed up to fight bullying through Bully Proofed. Visit their site to learn about what they are doing or visit them on Facebook.

If schools could have IEPs…

It has come to be my belief that IEPs are used far too infrequently. We have limited ourselves by only applying IEP’s to children. There are so many other places in life where they might be appropriate. I would like to suggest that some schools might benefit from having an IEP that sets in place goals that assist them in helping special needs children. I’m not suggesting that all schools need such a document, solely the ones who present some significant processing disorder that inhibits their ability to correctly and adequately teach the special education children that are a part of their community.

While the more angry and embittered in advocacy circles might argue that such schools could be qualified under the emotional disturbance category; I believe the correct qualifying condition would be to place such schools under the visually impaired category. The federal definition of “Visual impairment including blindness means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.” 34 CFR 300.7 (c)(13). If a student is found to have an impairment, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team must also determine whether the student has a need for special education.

It is fairly clear that while many schools have a vision that includes proper educational services for special education, other schools seem to have a disability that prevents them from seeing that these children, given proper support, can receive an excellent education and go on to lead productive lives. Given this, as a society, we need to address these issues by providing these vision impaired schools a proper IEP.

Following are some suggestions for goals. The list is not inclusive, and I encourage readers to suggest additional goals. Since an IEP is a living document, as such proper goals are determined, we can revisit our IEP and add them.


Long Term Goal for Articulation/Intelligibility: Given a structured or unstructured educational setting, School will increase meaningful communication interactions by articulating a clear vision of inclusion for special education student within its educational setting to 100 % over 4 consecutive trials as measured by parent/advocate observation, other informal assessments and data collection.

Short term: School will use appropriate phrasing (pitch, volume, rate, stress) during IEP inclusion meetings or conversation in all trials.


Long Term Goal for Fluency Awareness/Self-monitoring: Given a structured or unstructured classroom setting, School will increase awareness of own speech production by describing characteristics of fluent and dysfluent speech by school personnel with 100% accuracy over 175 consecutive trials.

Short term objectives/benchmarks: Evaluate speech of self and others as it regards the rights of special education students.


Long Term Mathematics Goal: School will develop number sense sufficient to understand that funding special education is not encroachment,; it is dispensing dollars to help student have access to the curriculum that is offered.

Short Term Goal: As observed by parent/advocate, School will provide sufficient resources to fund an educational program meeting the needs of special education children.


Long Term Goal for Social Skills: School will demonstrate appropriate use of conversational manners.

Short term objectives / benchmarks:

1. School will demonstrate understanding and use of appropriate tone of voice and volume with 90% accuracy given situational cues.

2. School will formulate single or multiple sentences on a given special education topic with appropriate and clear meaning and increasing accuracy.


Long Term Goal for Organization: School: School will demonstrate ability to complete work by delivering the items agreed to in IEP’s.

Short Term Goal: Through observation by parent/advocate, all areas of IEP’s will be fully delivered without exception.


Long Term Technology Goals: School will proactively ensure that all special education students have access to the technology necessary to benefit from their educational experience.

Short Term Goal: As observed by parent/advocate, School will provide modern technology and software that is designed to meet student instructional needs in 100% of cases.


Long Term Goals for Transition: School will transition from an adversarial role in dealing with parents to one in which parents are equal partners at the table with a wide range of experience in helping their children.

Short Term Goals/Benchmarks: School will receive training to better understand the role parents within the IEP process. As measured by parents/advocates, School will demonstrate increased cooperation in IEP meetings during 5 out of 5 meetings.

Once again, I encourage readers to suggest their own goals. I hope to garner enough to create a second blog posting with the entries.

Is “cyberbaiting” a real trend that should concern teachers?

Out-of-control classroom

Norton Online Family Reports documents what some consider to be an alarming trend in education: “cyberbaiting.” This is when a student or group of students deliberately provoke a teacher in an attempt to get the person to lose control. If successful, a student then secretly videos the outburst using their cell phone and posts the humiliating display on social media sites. Read my thought on this issue here.

Court rules no assault where student threatens school administrator

The state of Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal held that a student had not committed assault on a school administrator in violation of Floridalaw despite the fact that he said, “You’re going to die today, bitch; something is going to happen to you after school; you watch.” The court held that the student’s comments and actions did not meet the third prong of the law’s requirement: (1) an intentional, unlawful threat; (2) an apparent ability to carry out the threat; and (3) creation of a well-founded fear that the violence is imminent.

Section 784.01(1) of Florida Statutes states:

An assault is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.

In its holding, the court states, “the record is devoid of is devoid of any evidence to show H.W. (the defendant) did any act to create a well-founded fear by Jones (the school administrator) that violence was imminent.

The facts of the case are as follows. Jones, an administrative assistant atParkwayMiddle Schoolcalled H.W. up to her office for a disciplinary infraction. Based on that infraction, Jones informed H.W. that he was being suspended for three days. According to court documents, when H.W. was informed of the school suspension, he became agitated and verbally abusive. Jones testified that H.W. began cussing at her, calling her a “bitch,” shouted “f_ _ _ you,” and began pacing back and forth in her office with his shirt raised. H.W. ended up leaving Jones’ office but returned in less than an hour. A school security officer, Hector Martinez, was stationed outside Jones’ door when H.W. returned.

Upon reentering her office, H.W. again began making threats. He told her he was going to ensure she got “put to sleep.” Officer Martinez testified that he heard H.W. tell Jones “You’re going to die today, bitch; something is going to happen to you after school; you watch.”

When asked if she was afraid at the time, J0nes testified, “In a way, I was afraid because…H.W. is a violent individual.” Jones further testified she “thought” H.W. would have hit her and that was why she had called to have Officer Martinez present.

The court held that H.W.’s threats did not create a well-founded fear that H.W. would do something to Jones at that time. When Jones called for Officer Martinez to come into her office, she “did not raise her voice to shout for help, but instead calmly called for Officer Martinez” who was sitting outside her door. The court concluded that the fact that Jones thought that H.W. might reach across the desk and hit her and H.W.’s threat that something would happen “that day” were insufficient to show violence was imminent.

Parents file wrongful death in bullicide case

Parents of a student who committed suicide after what his parents allege was years of school bullying by students and school district personnel sue school district in Utahreports Courthouse News Service. Mr. and Mrs. Bradd Hancock (hereinafter Plaintiffs) have brought a deliberate indifference lawsuit against NorthSanpeteSchool Districtin Utahover their son’s suicide. See the rest of my article here.

Judge falls asleep during special education due process hearing

A special education hearing officer who fell asleep as he presided over a family’s due-process hearing has resigned, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. See rest of the story here.

See video of sleeping judge at this link. Judge falls asleep during special education trial.

The intersection of religion, free speech, and anti-bullying efforts

The First Amendment guarantees that public school students have the right to free speech. It also gives them the right to practice their religion. But when does a student’s right to express his personal religious beliefs go too far and cross the line into bullying?

Read the rest of the excellent article on the intersection between the First Amendment and student speech here.