The ACLU of Missouri is suing the Independence School District on behalf of the senior who has been banned from graduation for, in jest, listing his high school for sale on Craigslist.
American Civil Liberties Union officials claim that 18-year-old Kylan Scheele's free speech rights were violated when he was suspended for three days and denied participation in the Truman High School graduation ceremony set for 11 a.m. Saturday.
"No reasonable person" would interpret "the satirical ad as a threat of mass murder," said the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City on Friday.
It asks for an injunction to allow Scheele to attend graduation. A school district spokeswoman said the the district expected a ruling from the court as early as Friday evening.
On Thursday, the ACLU sent a letter to Independence superintendent Dale Herl urging the district to reconsider its decision. The letter also said the student's due process rights were violated and called the district's interpretation of Scheele's senior prank "unreasonable."
But Friday the district declined to change its decision, despite the urging of Scheele's family, a petition — "Let Kylan Scheele walk with his class at graduation" signed by more than 2,600 supporters — and the insistence of the ACLU.
"The advertisement created a substantial and material disruption of the educational environment, and the Independence School District stands by its decision," the district said in a statement.
"The clear substantial and material disruption served as the basis for the suspension. We take student safety very seriously and appreciate the students and parents who brought these incidents to our attention. "
Scheele, who has a 3.9 grade point average, is holding out hope he will get to walk with his classmates at graduation.
"I did not ask for this from the ACLU, but I'm glad it came," Scheele said Friday. "We were not asking for much. The punishment did not meet the actions. There is still time for them to make it right."
As a joke, on May 18 Scheele posted a Craigslist ad listing Truman High for sale at the bargain price of $12,725. He described his school as a "20+ room facility" with newly built athletic fields, plenty of parking and a “bigger than normal dining room.” The posting was done with the email address of email@example.com. It has since been removed.
It was Scheele's choice of words that got him in trouble. His post also said, "The reason for the sale is due to the loss of students coming up." The "loss" meant the students who would be graduating.
But district officials said that in a climate of frequent school shootings, they and some parents perceived the post as a threat. It was a parent who told Independence police he was looking at used baseball equipment when a picture of Truman High School for sale popped up.
Independence police detectives and the district spent hours tracking the source of the post. On Tuesday police found Scheele at home and after hearing his story, did not find a credible threat and found no probable cause to pursue criminal charges.
The next day, when Scheele went to apologize to the school, he was given a three-day suspension — the remainder of his senior year — and banned from graduation.
The district's statement also mentions a separate incident involving a senior yearbook quote with what school officials described as "an implied threat to students." The district and police found it, too, was not a credible threat.
"However, any student who makes a real or implied threat, whether it is deemed credible or not, will face discipline," the district statement said. "Students who make a real or implied threat to graduation or graduates will not be allowed to attend or walk at graduation."
Tony Rothert, legal director for ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement, "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.”
The lawsuit said the district is blocking Scheele from graduation even though it "fully understands that those who interpreted the satirical ad as a threat of mass murder were mistaken." The suit claims that "no reasonable person" would deduce that Scheele's "expressive activity would cause a substantial or material disruption."
"The senior prank of posting an advertisement for the sale of one’s high school on Craigslist is quite common and appears never to have caused a substantial or material disruption in any other school district in the country," the suit said.