Expelled for profanity

An incident in Indiana raises the question: Should tweeting an F bomb get you kicked out of school?

Topics: Twitter, Teenagers,

Expelled for profanityAustin Carroll and Garrett High School (Credit: AP)

Austin Carroll is a 17-year-old high school senior in Garrett, Ind., who recently did something so outrageous that it got him expelled from school. He used profanity. On Twitter. Oh my stars and garters! What is the world coming to?

To hear even his own family describe him, Carroll sounds like a bit of a handful. Last month, he earned a suspension for violating the school dress code and wearing a kilt, and last fall, he ran afoul of the school administration for tweeting an F bomb via a school computer.

But Carroll insists his more recent Twitter tirade — which Indiana News Center colorfully quotes as “BEEP is one of those BEEP words you can BEEP use in any BEEP sentence and it still BEEP make sense” – was banged out from his personal account on his home computer. The school district says the post came from a school-issued device or the school’s network. (Both Carroll and the district seem to agree that the post was not directed at any individual or the school itself.)

You Might Also Like

But students at Carroll’s school are expected to sign a Respectable Use Policy that requires them to “consider the information and images that I post online,” to not “flame, bully, harass or stalk people” or visit sites “that are degrading, pornographic, racist or inappropriate.” There’s no specific limit on word choice, which suggests that the school has now granted itself considerable leeway in interpreting its own rules.

Adding an invasively chilling element to the whole affair is the recent tweet from the Garrett School District’s IT director, who said, “Freedom of speech is our right, but it doesn’t (always) make it appropriate. Think before you type people. #austincarroll.” Because your school is watching you, kids.

It’s true that if more people thought before they typed, the Internet would be a markedly saner place. It’s easy to forget your teachers or your parents might see the words you’re banging out in what feels like perfect solitude. But Carroll wasn’t threatening anyone or deploying hate speech. He was just using some naughty words. He may even have been doing it on his own computer on his own time. And his school appears to have never issued a specific policy on the words in question anyway. So we are left with a kid who will now have to finish out his senior year at a nearby “alternative” school, where at least he can ostensibly wear a kilt and curse on Twitter and nobody will care.

Freedom of speech comes with a price, but the price tag should be appropriate. It’s a school’s job to encourage conversation, to spur kids to question the impact of their language and the effect their actions have, not to scurry away, blushing, from harder questions about expression, personal privacy and the limits of authority. In its Respectable Use Policy, the Garrett school says, with a stunning apparent lack of self-awareness, that “The primary priority of the technology is to improve student learning.” But Carroll and his fellow seniors must be wondering today how attainable that goal really is, when what could have been an authentic teachable moment has been so abruptly shut down.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>