Student Expelled For Cyberbullying Not Deprived of Constitutional Right to Public Education, Court Says
Federal court dismisses claims against charter school for expelling student due to cyberbullying — Lindsey v. Matayoshi, 2013 WL 3092450 (D. Haw. June 19, 2013)
The federal district court of Hawaii recently dismissed a lawsuit against a charter school that expelled a student for cyberbullying. The student and her parents claimed that the school denied them a property interest in a free public education in violation of their constitutional right to due process. The court ruled that the damage claims against the school were barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity and that injunctive relief was unavailable because the school did not violate the constitutional rights of the student and her parents.
RFL was a student at Kanu, a charter school in the state of Hawaii. On several occasions, RFL threatened, bullied, and teased other students through Facebook posts and text messages. RFL also got involved in a fight with a classmate. Kanu initially suspended RFL and reminded her of Kanu’s “no tolerance” policy toward bullying, but when RFL persisted in taunting and threatening classmates through social media, Kanu expelled her.
Kanu discussed several options with RFL’s parents for continuing her education, including nearby public high schools and home schooling, and offered to assist in transitioning RFL to the school of her parents’ choice. RFL’s parents declined to enroll RFL in any of the public high schools offered to them as alternatives. Instead, RFL and her parents sued Kanu, the superintendent of the state department of education, and various school officials. The plaintiffs sought damages and injunctive relief for the deprivation of their due process rights, emotional distress, and a violation of state administrative laws.
The court ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred the plaintiffs from seeking monetary damages claims from Kanu, a state entity, and the other defendants, who were state officials sued in their official capacity. As for injunctive relief claim for an order requiring Kanu to re-enroll RFL, the court found that the defendants had not deprived the plaintiffs of a constitutionally-protected property interest in public education. Kanu offered alternative schooling options to the plaintiffs, but they rejected them all because they did not like the schools that were available to them. The court held that an entitlement to public education did not include the right to attend a particular school or to a particular kind of education or curriculum.