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Student Suspended Over IM Icon 652

Chris Reimer writes "C|Net is reporting that a 15-year-old student lost a lawsuit over having an instant messenger icon that represented a death threat against an English teacher on his personal computer that another student reported to school authorities. From the article: 'His parents sued, claiming that the icon was protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech, that the school district failed to train staff in proper threat assessment and that the school board violated state law in not following proper procedures. [The judge] Mordue rejected the free-speech claims.'"
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Student Suspended Over IM Icon

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  • by conJunk ( 779958 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:49PM (#15639795)

    from the court's opinion in tfa:

    "Likewise, the surrounding circumstances--including the effect of the icon on Mr. VanderMolen and school officials, Aaron's awareness of the school's position that a threat was not a joke, the absence of any factor to suggest that the icon was a joke and the general increase in school violence--establish that an ordinary, reasonable recipient who is familiar with the context of the icon would interpret it as a serious threat of injury.

    that's the only part of the decision i disagree with. an IM icon isn't a threat, it's an icon. "The absence of any factor to indicate the icon was a joke"? Um. How about that it's an icon, as opposed to say a note, or graffiti, or some other type of message?

    that minor disagreement asside, by 15 a kid should know he can't make a picture of a gun pointed at a teacher's head, have blood splatter everywhere, write "kill teacher $name" and think nothing is going to happen.

    I was in second grade when i learned you can get in trouble for drawing pictures of people you don't like lying in a hospital bed.

    did the school over react by suspending him for a semster? probably. but good grief. you don't make icons of blowing a teacher's brains out and think that's totally cool.

    • If the text of the icon said something about the president instead of "Kill Mr. VanderMolen", I think the Secret Service would consider it a threat until it was investigated. Without investigation there is no way to tell if it is a threat. Public schools have policies that restrict the constitutional rights of students and they can therefore punish students where an adult citizen might only be investigated.
      • by hazem ( 472289 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:35PM (#15640102) Journal
        Public schools have policies that restrict the constitutional rights of students and they can therefore punish students where an adult citizen might only be investigated.

        I believe that concept is called in loco parentis. It means "in place of the parent" - that the school acts in the place of the parent while the child is at school. The problem is, it should only apply when the kids "in loco" the school. The kid at home should be free to say what he wants or put whatever he wants on his IM.

        It's still a dumb thing to do.
        • The kid at home should be free to say what he wants or put whatever he wants on his IM.

          I agree, except when those actions effect the school environment.

          The school concluded that the "his actions created disruption in the school environment" & the Judge concluded that the boy's actions "caused a substantial disturbance at the school; that it is reasonable that it should have done so; and that Aaron had reason to expect that it would do so."

          What more do you want?

          As an aside, I don't really think 'in loco

          • What would have happened if the kid had that picture on a T-shrit and was wearing it in public?
            (I'm assuming an IM icon is viewable by the "public")
      • by Gorshkov ( 932507 ) <> on Friday June 30, 2006 @09:03PM (#15640805)
        If the text of the icon said something about the president instead of "Kill Mr. VanderMolen", I think the Secret Service would consider it a threat until it was investigated

        It's a threat anyway - all the investigation will do is determine if it's serious or credible.
    • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:58PM (#15639857) Homepage Journal

      that's the only part of the decision i disagree with. an IM icon isn't a threat, it's an icon.

      This isn't the 1950's and the Cleaver's we're discussing here. There are in the past 20 years several accounts of perfectly normal children appearing at school one day to settle a few scores. Nobody sees these things coming, particularly parents. Parents who don't check up on who their children hang out with, don't engage in conversations to see how their day went, but are always shocked when they get a call from the police.

      I worked in San Jose a few years ago and some joker took some pictures of himself with a bunch of guns and ammo and dropped them off at the local drug store for processing. An alert employee thought there was something wrong and reported the photos to the police. The guy had been driving past my office every day for months. Guns, explosives, pipe bombs, etc. Plans to kill people at his community college were found in his home. Free speech? Sometimes people have to take an interest. I'm seriously bugged Aaron's parents are defending this.

      • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:04PM (#15639893)

        "As a result, the school district sent Aaron's parents a notice of a formal disciplinary hearing and also tipped off the sheriff's department (which declined to do anything, concluding that the icon was indeed a joke). Meanwhile, a psychologist concluded that Aaron did not pose a threat."
        • GASP! a kid (and the local cops) recognize the difference between a icon as a stress relief on his computer from a delivered threat in the real world? and without a focus group? without a planning session? without a proper briefing on social, cultural, gender, life style, and species cohabitation issues that may be raised during proceedings? GET THAT KID ON MEDS NOW!
        • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:34PM (#15640431) Journal
          But... the teacher (aka "the victim") felt threatened.

          That's enough for the school to act.

          From TFA:
          It is well-established that lack of intention or ability to carry out a threat is not relevant.

          Basically, the Judge is saying the Police could have arrested the kid & that it was a prosecutable offense.

          Based on the Judge's conclusions, IMO, Mr. VanderMolen could have sued in civil court for distress & won.

          What I don't get is why is running a story from 2001. Was this case just decided recently?
      • There are in the past 20 years several accounts of perfectly normal children appearing at school one day to settle a few scores.

        I know this is somewhat tangential, but I can't this one slide. This sentiment is very stupid at best and extremely offensive at worst. You need to stop bithely believing whatever the 6 o'clock news tells you and look at the world around you. Violence of all kinds--including youth violence and school violence specifically--went DOWN all through the 90's and into the 00's. T
    • by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:59PM (#15639864)

      did the school over react by suspending him for a semster? probably. but good grief. you don't make icons of blowing a teacher's brains out and think that's totally cool.

      Well, it all comes down to the definition of what is or isn't a threat, what is or isn't acceptable. Where to draw the line? I'm willing to be that although laws specifically haven't changed, this sort of icon pre-Columbine probably wouldn't have resulted in suspension. So what has changed? The bar has changed. The problem is that the bar wasn't well defined in law, or even school rules. Is the IM icon OK if he doesn't use it to communicate with any other students or teachers, and doesn't use it at school? Is it OK if he just drew it at home, never brought it to school, never communicated its existence, yet someone found it anyway and reported him? Basically, are the administrators punishing only what they can see, what they know about? And what constitutes a threat? If I'm a pissed off student after getting detention or something and I'm grumbling to myself and mumbling under my breath that I wish the teacher would just be taken out back and shot, and someone heard me? How about if I mumbled that I wish the teacher would just jump off a cliff? How about if I mumbled I wish the teached would just get abducted by aliens and blasted to oblivion with a ray gun? Clearly, not a credible threat, merely because we haven't seen it happen yet, really. The problem is that speech is infinitely variable... we do our best and we can only say we're going to protect free speech or we're not. Then we have to clarify that and say free speech is only free as long as it per se does not represent a danger (like yelling fire in a crowded theater), etc. I really don't know where to draw the line, but it certainly seems the pendulum has swung in the direction of treating all students as potential Columbinites.

    • that's the only part of the decision i disagree with. an IM icon isn't a threat, it's an icon

      What's so special about icons that they should be treated differently from any other form of image or text, other than the fact that you're directly identifying yourself with it, which would seem to strengthen any identification of the icon's message with the person behind it.
    • an IM icon isn't a threat, it's an icon.

      I'm not sure I understand how it being an icon negates it being a threat. An icon is "a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something."
  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <> on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:50PM (#15639802) Journal

    As this student is now learning, if this really was his idea of a joke, it was not the funniest joke ever played (for more on that, see the description of Monty Python's Funniest Joke in the World []).

    From the article:

    The icon showed a gun pointing to a head, a bullet leaving the gun, and blood splattering from the head. It included the words "Kill Mr. VanderMolen," the name of Aaron's English teacher at Weedsport Middle School.

    Freedom of speech is not absolute and is frequently determined to be more "pure" when considering speech around protest, opinion, etc. Showing an icon, with an explicit reference to killing (as an active "directive") and the teacher's name falls pretty far outside the boundaries for reasonable people, and apparently for the court of law. The article says most students laughed it off as a joke... it's difficult to see what's funny in a gun pointed at someone's head, even as a thumbnail sized icon.

    One defining attribute of this student's environment is his parents' reaction to all of this:

    His parents sued, claiming that the icon was protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech, that the school district failed to train staff in proper threat assessment and that the school board violated state law in not following proper procedures.

    WTF? I'd personally rather this student's parents on the bubble for their glib interpretation of their son's behavior. Their "defense" of their child says much about a belief and value system they must have instilled in Aaron as they raised him. Bah!

    Bottom line, free speech doesn't give people the freedom to say "kill XXX". Not funny... I hope this doesn't ruin the student's future, I hope he learns from this, but ultimately I wish more parents like this would wake up and show more respect for their children by defining for them reasonable civil boundaries -- i.e., it's okay, even necessary to protest, it's not okay to intimidate and assault.

    • You pretty much nailed it. A large number of people today misunderstand what Freedom of Speech actually means. It's the freedom to speak and not have the government censor you. The right does not extend to situations where someone else's rights may be endangered or limited in some way, like harassment or libel. In this case, the teacher's safety was under threat.
    • by LionKimbro ( 200000 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:01PM (#15640259) Homepage
      I agree. This stuff isn't funny.

      But you know, when I was 13, (which was pre-Columbine,) this sort of stuff was funny. Except only for kids.

      Or was it?

      My mom thought "Death Camp," a series of stories one of my friends wrote, in 7th grade, was pretty damn funny. She read each one, cover-to-cover. They were the story of a team of kids, who were imprisoned daily in a middle school, forced to eat terrible food, with mutant teachers trying to take over the kids minds. The kids amassed a ton of weapons (we were all playing Wasteland at the time, you see,) blew away the teachers, (who were shooting back, and conducting vile experiments on other students,) helped everyone escape, and then... ...took off in an SR-71 that happened to be parked on the 1/4-mile track?

      At any rate: We had wonderful times coming up with the stories. We'd joke about them at lunch, and imagine how awesome it would be to finally get free of all that schooling. We'd egg on our star writer (my friend, who I shall not name, since he's actually around, writing on the Internet,) and he'd write out another episode in the story. It was 15 episodes total, I think, each around 4-6 pages long, typewritten out on computer.

      We loved the stories. My mom thought they were cute.

      And I really think there's something of value to the quest for freedom.

      Now, come Junior year, Senior year in high school, we got the idea one lunch: "Oh! Let's re-read those old stories! Death Camp! Yah!" But, our friend told us, "No. I burned them."

      "You burned them?!" "Yeah. I burned them." "But why?!"

      "Because they were crap!"

      And it's true. They were crap. But they were our crap, and we loved them. But, our friend just burned stuff after a year, generally; He was that sort of writer. "It's not good enough." (torch!)

      Most of us are now well paid geeks. There's a stellar composer in our bunch. The author, despite graduating Pepperdine, and a number of other honors (including graduating Valadictorian from our high school) isn't doing so well; He's struggling with his English major, trying to figure out what to do with it.

      But basically, we're all doing well, and we're all good people, and we're all contributing.

      Now. Let me ask you. In the climate we see exhibited here today in this room (Slashdot.) In this room, of all places, ... Now, I ask you to consider where we would have been, if the world had been post-Columbine.

      I can tell you where we'd be: Nowhere. It's quite plausible we wouldn't have graduated from High School. We might be busted for conspiracy to commit murder. Perhaps we'd be looked over for GATE. Our healthy anti-authoritarianism would likely become genuine fear, and have become an intense, focused, directed anti-authoritarianism.

      Frankly, I don't think I'd be able to type this today.

      Now, I'm feeling done, but I realize something's left to be addressed. I wish it were clear and obvious, and didn't need to be said. Unfortunately, apparently, it does: "No." "No, we never intended to actually kill our teachers." It was just a story. It was just fantasy.

      It was a fantasy that we needed, in some ways. We knew that there were ideological battles taking place in the school, we knew that teachers were throwing ideas at us. We knew that we were being graded on whether or not we conformed with ideas that were not necessarily true. We knew that things were complicated. We did not have the language to describe the kinds of things we were intuited. But our brains knew that there was a conflict taking place, and so when our brains reified what we were seeing, it did it in the language of violence: A struggle to get out. A struggle to be free.

      We could not wax poetic about "cognitive dissonance," we could not talk about "ontologies," or "paradox." But we felt it, we knew it, and so we wrote it.

      May God bless today's kids: They're in a far deeper prison than we were.
    • Bottom line, free speech doesn't give people the freedom to say "kill XXX".

      You have the right to say "kill XXX". You do not have the right to say "kill XXX" under circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to beleive that you actual intend to take steps toward killing XXX.

      It's circumstances, not the mere content of the message, that make a communication a threat or not. There is a large difference between someone saying, "Someone ought to knock Mr. Slippery upside the head with a baseball bat

  • Back the Judge? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:51PM (#15639803) Homepage Journal
    Back the Judge?

    Ok, most law is based upon common sense. You don't steal my car, I don't shoot you, we all get along sort of thing. Here we have parents backing up their child's poor taste chat icon. Seriously. There's the 1st Amendment, or whatever passes for guarantees of Free Speech in other countries, but where is this a political critique of the institutions of government? That's what the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution is there to protect. This is clearly a child behaving badly and parents backing him up. There's seriously something f**ked in the head with these people.

    I'm behind the judge in this one. I'd even consider remanding the child to protective services as these parents are seriously a threat when they think this is find behaviour worthy of defending in court.

    • I agree with you and the judge. If I had done something like this you can bet my parents would have made me VERY unhappy for a long time. If I had a legitimate gripe with someone and filed a complaint following whatever established procedures they would have backed me all the way. Civilized people don't suggest that a teacher they dislike should be killed.
    • where is this a political critique of the institutions of government? That's what the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution is there to protect

      O rly?

      "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech."

      Doesn't say anything about not abridging political speech. It says all speech. Of course in practice, speech which falls in the libel or threat category gets you punished. I'm just saying those laws are unconstitutional as the first amendment is written.
    • So, while we're at it, can we charge this kid with conspiracy to commit murder, since we're wasting the court's time with this nonsense?
    • Good luck remanding him to protective services. This happend in 2001 and he was 15, 5 years later makes him 20.
    • Seriously. There's the 1st Amendment, or whatever passes for guarantees of Free Speech in other countries, but where is this a political critique of the institutions of government?

      Given the level of sophistication of the average teenager, I'd say that's a fairly eloquent denounciation of the school system.

      Speech shouldn't be any less free if it's clumsy.

      If English allows you to say "Kill your Television" even though it's something that isn't alive, why shouldn't it allow you to say "Kill your Teac

    • I don't think it's the childs actions they are defending, but more the punishment that didn't fit the crime.

      Yeah he did draw and distribute a bad picture. So did many famous artists. I'm suspecting he was angry about a poor test grade or something... took his aggression out on photoshop, and set as an IM ICON. Some friends of his thought it was cool and requested it, and so it was spread...

      Yeah, the kid is stupid. Yes he should have gotten suspended. A week or two tops. Yes he better be grounded for s
    • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:13PM (#15640320) Journal
      "I'd even consider remanding the child to protective services as these parents are seriously a threat when they think this is find behaviour worthy of defending in court."

      Back when I was in school (I am only 29) I remembered what happened if I screwed up in school and the teacher called my mother.

      Boy, was I scared when dad came home and heard about it. I knew what was going to happen.

      Today my gf is a school teacher and rarely if ever do the parents ever discipline the kid. Almost always in this day and age the parent will always standup for the kid and attack the teacher for letting it happen. No one believes in responsibility and everything is always someone elses fault. Its like a character flaw if its your own. I wonder if this is why America is so law suit friendly? Its always someone elses fault and its liek this because we raise our kids to think that.

      My gf suspended 2 students for threatening her life. One was expelled and a gang leader and came into the school with a knife with the intention of stabbing her as a way to teach her a lesson by suspending her. Meanwhile she complained to her boss who did nothing and then to the principal who got hte kid out. Meanwhile she is now unemployeed for dare defending herself because it made her boss look bad by going around him. Sigh

      I do not mean to sound like a dick but teachers get paid too little and put up with too much garbage to deal with trash. She had to get her masters and 2 certifications and $100,000 in debt just to have the priviledge of putting up with gang bangers and death threats for a mere $39,000 a year.

      I do find this odd it happened outside of school grounds but still.
      • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Friday June 30, 2006 @09:12PM (#15640833) Homepage Journal
        Today my gf is a school teacher and rarely if ever do the parents ever discipline the kid. Almost always in this day and age the parent will always standup for the kid and attack the teacher for letting it happen.

        In the first month of school last year, my kid was a pain in the teacher's butt. Nothing really bad, mind you - just testing her limits and the teacher's authority. That sort of thing. Well, one day her teacher met me at the fence when I went to pick up my kid up. She hesitantly, nervously told me that she'd had some minor behavior problems and thought I should know about them. I told her that I was very sorry and that it wouldn't happen again, and to please let me know if there's anything else I could ever help with.

        Now, this teacher is hardly the beaten down, frazzled type. Nonetheless, she seemed so genuinely relieved and gratified that I was taken aback. To this day, she always smiles and waves whenever we meet, and the other teachers magically seem to have learned my name and greet me pleasantly.

        It's kind of sad that something as simple as a parent backing up a teacher's authority is such an unexpected surprise.

      • I do not mean to sound like a dick but teachers get paid too little and put up with too much garbage to deal with trash. She had to get her masters and 2 certifications and $100,000 in debt just to have the priviledge of putting up with gang bangers and death threats for a mere $39,000 a year.

        This is why I refuse to be entertained with the thought of teaching [in a public school]. Becuase, if a child posed a real threat, I'd protect myself regardless of the outcome; death to be included and even probable.
  • LOL INTERNET (Score:5, Insightful)

    by linvir ( 970218 ) * on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:53PM (#15639821)

    It's a witch hunt, in this post-Columbine world! Where's Jon Katz when you need him in this post-Columbine world?

    But seriously, saying that the icon was "on his home computer" is like saying that prank calls are okay because "what I say in the privacy of my own home is my business".

    • it's not like that at all.

      It's like calling one person to talking about pulling a prank on someone else.

      wait, it's not like that at all either.
      It's like posting a discussion of a prank on a public real world bullitent board, then the person who the prank talks about finding out.
    • IMHO, the final decision was right, but for all the wrong reasons.

      It was obviously a joke (rather said a pathetic attempt of a joke), as most colleagues of this kid and even the POLICE initially considered, and as further investigations proved. Bottom line, it was NOT a threat, and was not perceived as a threat by anybody who has even just some minimal background information.
      Then, after a while (3 weeks) one of the kids in his class (probably when just having been pissed off by this Aron character) brings t
    • Where is "Don't Ruin a Kid's Life for Being a Stupid Kid" Panda when you need him?
  • Um... ok (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:53PM (#15639822)
    A death threat? It's not like the kid tied it to a rock and threw it into the teachers house though a window or something.

    Children do stupid things like this all the time. What we have here is just a prime example of a post-columbine overreaction. If something is uttered by a child, it must be literally true... right?
    • Indeed. (Score:5, Funny)

      by raehl ( 609729 ) <raehl311@yahoo.GAUSScom minus math_god> on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:06PM (#15639909) Homepage
      Clearly the court prefers that you don't threaten people before you kill them.
    • I think you're way off base to say "Children do stupid things like this all the time". Kids cuss, they sneak liquor out of their parents stash, they try their first smokes, they might even experiment with sex or practice vandalism. ALL of these things have consequences, some directly by the various things they experiment with.

      If my son ever did anything like this he'd lose his recreational computer privledges for a very long time, he'd personally and publically apologize to the teacher. In the end, his

  • Sounds about right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wind_Walker ( 83965 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:55PM (#15639839) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure why this is even an issue. A student made an icon of a bullet to the head, with the phrase "Kill Mr. VanderMolen" on it. Whether it was intended as a joke or not, it's still a threat - just like those signs you see at the airport warning you not to joke about a bomb in your suitcase. Free speech does not include the right to threaten other people.

    Sounds like the court and the school district got this one right. Not sure what the controversy is.

    • That plus minors do not have the same Constitutional rights as adults and the fact that Public Schools are not the same as a Government Agency enforcing such rules against the general populace. Schools do have the authority to enforce whatever standards they decide are appropriate.
  • First Amendment? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RandUser ( 799024 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:56PM (#15639847)
    This seems pretty clear-cut: although the student _is_ free to say whatever he wants, a death threat supercedes being "protected" as far as actions from the school district. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from repercussions, and the kid/his parents are getting a pretty decent lesson in this.
    • Correct, death threats are not free speach. The classic example is that freedom of speach doesn't allow you to scream fire in a movie theatre.

      First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      The amendment even mentions the right "peaceably to assemble". Even thoug
    • I am not a lawyer and so I don't know what the legal requirements for death threats or hate speech are, but if jokes were always taken at face value, there would be literally hundreds of thousands of people on the internet who would be guilty of that crime.

      Then again he wasn't found guilty of any crime, just that the school was within it's bounds for the suspension. Considering that the effects of his activities at home did spill into the classroom and were thus the realm of school authority, some punishmen
    • Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from repercussions


      That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Does freedom of speech mean freedom from (government) consequences? YES! If you have to worry about being imprisoned for speech, then it is not free.
  • by The Famous Druid ( 89404 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @05:58PM (#15639859)
    When I was a kid, if I'd done anything like that my dad would have given me a good hiding, these 'parents' (and I use the word loosly) hire a lawyer to get their kid out of trouble. WTF?

    I say take the kid and his parents out behind the woodshed and give them a lesson in manners they'll never forget.
    • that's not very druid like.

      You would be right(in essence) if these matter were left up to the parents, but they're not.

      Was it bad manner? yes. Was it a threat? no.
    • When you were a kid, getting suspended once in high school wouldn't drastically reduce your chances of getting accepted into college, or possibly cause severe financial harm to your family by significantly reducing your ability to get scholarships to pay for college.

      Your dad would have giving you a good hiding (whatever that is), you would have learned your lesson, and that would have been the end of it. Now stupid kid mistakes can fuck up your whole life, and parents, making the decision between letting y
  • So a 15 year-old kid had an icon on his home computer (not at school) that depicted a gun shooting a head with text saying, Kill Mr. Teachersname. The kid had absolutely no disciplinary action on his record before this incident. In fact, the only reason the teacher ever found out was because another kid saw this icon, presumably while visiting the offender, and reported it. I do not see how this can be made out to be a real threat. A very poor taste of a joke, certainly, but a threat? No way. Now, maybe if
    • OK, how about if he had a webpage full of icons, or whatever. Why should an icon be any different than anything else?

      The point isn't so much how the threat was presented, it's that the behavior was completely innappropriate. There's a line between 'cute' and 'stupid', and this falls under stupid. Depictions in any form of a gun to somebody's head, not to mention the text, shows that the kid need to get his head checked.

      Not perhaps an animated icon of the teacher being hit by an anvil would be more amusi
      • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yeolcoatl ( 967780 )
        I would maintain that a website is fundamentally different than a buddy icon.

        In the minds of people, a website is by default public. It is meant to be seen and essentially constitutes a broadcast.

        On the other hand, a buddy icon (regardless of the actually security measures implemented) carries semi-private conotations. The icon is meant only for your friends -- those you talk to with your messaging client.

        I'm sure the student did not want the teacher to see his buddy icon. And if there was an intent to keep
    • by strobe74 ( 617588 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:56PM (#15640237)
      You obviously have never used a chat application. ALL chat apps that I've ever seen broadcast your icon to anyone that has you on their list or talk to. It was also pointed out that the kid was spreading the icon around. The plain and simple fact is that just because the first amendment exists.. DOESN"T GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO THREATEN THE SAFTY OF OTHERS, joke or no joke. You can't joke about bombs on airplanes; you can't jokingly yell FIRE in a crowded theater, AND YOU CAN"T THREATEN SOMEONE"S LIFE. The first amendment does not accord you those rights and never has. The kids parents, the kid and a few of the people here need to go read the first amendment some time so they know what they're talking about. Now if you want to argue over what constitutes a "true threat" that's fine but as the judge put it, there was no evidence of a joke which is the determining factor in deciding what speech is protected and what is not when it comes to threats. That means that it could have been interpreted as a real threat because there was nothing to show that it was anything otherwise. I remember kids at columbine being interviewed after the shootings, saying that they though it was a joke when those two kids were talking about shooting people. You just can't be sure anymore, especially when you have kids being raised by parents that think this kind of behavior is not only ok, but should be legally protected. It's ridiculous that people's general education level has gotten so low in this country that there are people actually defending this asinine kid and his parents.
  • Ah... good plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by popo ( 107611 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:05PM (#15639906) Homepage
    I guess, the official school policy is to treat anti-social, disenfranchised young people, to a solitary year of introspection.

    Yeah... that'll work. He'll be much calmer and better adjusted after a year by himself playing video games all day -- and he'll be much happier next year with a new set of younger classmates who know he's the "crazy kid" who got suspended for weird photoshopped artwork.

    Should we arrest every hip hop artist now? And the creative staff over at Take2?

    • Re:Ah... good plan (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fishybell ( 516991 ) <> on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:30PM (#15640072) Homepage Journal
      I agree fully. I don't condone the kid's actions, I definately don't feel a suspension would help the true problem.

      A friend of mine in eighth grade sent a threatening letter to as a joke. The same day a fellow from the FBI (or the secret service, it was a long time ago, I wasn't there at the time, and I really no longer remember) came to the school, asked who was using a certain computer at a certain time, found my friend, and gave him a good stern talking-to about threats, pranks, and such much like you would get if you prank called 911. However, the school in it's infinite wisdom banished him from lunch hour (he had to eat alone in a empty room) and computer class for the rest of the year (again, he spent the hour alone in an empty classroom). So all throughout high school (and still to this day) many people know him only as "that kid who threatened to kill Clinton."

      My friend had learned his lesson just fine from the response from the feds, so why did the school have to impart such a grand, and rather debasing, punishment? Mostly for personal pride I feel. That way, if asked, they could say that they were "tough on crime" and "tough on delinquents." Believe me, my friend was no delinquent before that, only after. Coincidence? I . Think . Not.

  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:06PM (#15639912)
    What's even scarier than the alleged "death threat" (which was never delivered to the "victim" to insight "terror" in the first place), is how many posts here actually suggest the kid deserves punishment. It's an expression of opinion, not an order to carry out a murder on his behalf. Have we become so accustomed to conformity that any dissent from athority is met with zero tolerance?

    Needless to say, I'd guess 9/11 accomplished it's goal exactly as it was intended to do. We're now little more than bunch of Smurfs screaming and running around erratically every time something bad might happen.
  • I wonder if some find this shcoking at all. My wife works for the school system - many teenagers exhibit similar behavior and in almost every (but not all) case, the parent's attitudes and lack of respect for authority are often attributing factors. Free thinking and speech is a good thing. However, anything without boundries is dangerous. Its often those boundries that keep us a civilized society - moving forward.
  • Even though I disagree with the kid making this icon, I still can't agree with a ruling limiting free speech.
    • "Free speach" doesn't mean that you can get away with saying anything. Look up "libel", "slandor", and "yelling 'fire' in a crowded movie theater." There are many limits to "free speach" already, and a lot more if the Democrats get their way.

      If you took a letter to a teacher that said "Give me all your money or I'll kill you", would you consider that be a similiar form of "free speach"? This one just leaves off the "Give me money" part. Would you take such a "give me money" to a bank, and then argue "free s
  • There's no law against teenagers doing stupid things, but there probably should be. Anyway, I can't believe the parents are fighting for this kid - if my child did something like this, he would face the consequences of his actions like a man. If someone said "I wish so-and-so great bodily harm," it's quite different from saying "I am planning to cause so-and-so great bodily harm." The first way gets you in trouble, the second way gets you in jail. It's a matter of interpretation left to the courts at th
  • by rbanzai ( 596355 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:07PM (#15639920)
    If this kid shot his teacher (or fellow students) and after the fact this story came up people wouldn't be talking about free speech. They would be amazed that such a blatant "warning sign" was ignored.

    I'm glad it did not develop into actual violence but I wonder what's going on in that kid's head. I disliked teacher's when i was a kid but did not feel strongly enough to express it graphically and so bluntly.

    It's not protected speech. It's a stupid, violent statement that would not be laughed off by the /. crowd if they were the target of this kid's anger. It's not funny, it's creepy.
    • oh come on (Score:4, Interesting)

      by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:10PM (#15639943) Homepage Journal
      Are you telling me that through out all of high school you never said something like:
      "Another pop quiz? I wish the teacher were dead."
      or say:
      "I want to kill that SOB"!

      • Re:oh come on (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShaunC ( 203807 )

        Are you telling me that through out all of high school you never said something like:
        "Another pop quiz? I wish the teacher were dead."

        Sure I did, but I made damned sure that nobody but the friend(s) I was talking to would overhear me, and I sure as hell never wrote it down. I learned very early on - 4th grade, as a matter of fact; I still remember the teacher and the incident - that anything you write down can and will come back to haunt you. It's a lesson I've not forgotten. I'm glad that I actually had th

  • It makes you wonder that by not directing the threat at everyone, and it being reported by someone else at whether he was actually directly making a threat that was worth punishment. I'm not condoning what he did, and if you haven't learned that doing that kind of stuff will get you in trouble (hell, Slashdot even had a story recently about employers who check Myspace and Google for more detailed background information on potential employees) on the internet will eventually get you caught then you definitel
  • O.K. From what I read in the article, the kid had this on his home computer and didn't send it out to anyone. There was another so called "friend" that "freaked out" mentioned to said disliked teacher, whom seriously over-reacted and now this kid is going through the wringer. It took me a while trying to understand the objectionable comment in the article. I find it odd that the stated icon wasn't reported. I have downloaded tons of smiley icons with them killing each other. It seems like the kid made somet
    • I also feel sorry for him, but for a different reason.

      His parents are worthless.

      If the kid had problems in the class, the parents should have helped him to deal with that in a constructive manner.

      If he was doing okay in the class and this is how he got his kicks, we'll then there is not much hope for him.

  • He should've added a few more frames to the animation that said... "THIS IS A JOKE. (DUMBASS)"
    After the whole debauchle with that girl on livejournal talking about the president and getting interrogated by the secret service, I put a disclaimer on my livejournal page saying that nothing I say is actually a threat (if it seems like a threat, it's a joke), and that if anything seems like it's defamatory (libel, slander, what-have-you), then I'm exaggerating or fabricating for literary effect or humor's sake.

    Maybe I have a crappy sense of humor. So what? I think I'm entitled to make bad jokes, even if I have to provide a disclaimer. (of course, there WAS that case about the lawyers suing these guys who were making lawyer jokes in front of them... but I think it was on grounds of harassment---still over the top to sue, though, IMHO.)

    It's true that you don't always know when someone's joking... and after some of the high school shootings, I guess it's understandable for the school to take it seriously, but, they should have just asked Aaron---"Is this a joke? Do you actually want to harm your teacher? Do you have plans to harm your teacher?" and perhaps requested that he make it obvious that he's joking, or stop using the icon, or something. (Anybody with a copy? Put it on freenet, please?)
  • If this was a button he wore on his t-shirt to class I'd bet that he'd still get in trouble for it, but he'd only have to remove the button. Is it free speech? Sure, but he's a minor and this is not the government passing laws.

    I still boggle at the way people's logic flies out the window like a butterfly.

    Another example:
    Putting a sign on the street that some stranger is selling pot in the alley? Legal
    Linking to a site that has a copy of Back to The Future? Illegal
  • The article keeps talking about the icon being on his home computer. This implies to me that it's an icon that's used to launch a program, and only exists on his computer. But then there's mention of it being an icon for an IM program, which I assume means it appears next to his name when he posts messages (or something to that effect).

    Which one is it? If it's the former, I don't see what the big deal is as it's like writing that in your personal notbook which you never take outside. If it's the latter,
  • Since this is down at the bottom of the article, guaranteeing that only 5% of you (if that) will actually read it, and it summarizes the Judge's intent nicely...

    "Further, to the extent that plaintiffs attempt to argue that Aaron's conduct was purely out-of-school conduct, the undisputed evidence establishes that the icon was a threat to kill a teacher at the school, that Aaron circulated it among classmates for three weeks; that he had no reasonable expectation that it would not come to the attention of sch
  • When I first read the account of what his icon graphic was, I thought.....0wn3d!!! ...and then I thought about what the teacher would think and yea, I can obviously understand why he is upset. Even so, I used to see stuff like that all the time in Counterstrike or BF2. Nasty names. Intimidating chat. Constant taunts. (fine by me, btw) Remember the spray paints? Yea, some of them would be threatening if presented in the real world. But, it's all about context. In the game, it was fine. In real life
  • by necro2607 ( 771790 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @06:39PM (#15640121)
    Dude, my friends and I drew pictures of people getting killed or the school getting blown up or whatever, all the time.. Before AND after the Columbine "massacre"... it's pretty trivial and also super common for kids who are extremely frustrated with the school system, sick of being bullied or pushed around, and/or have a crappy social life etc.

    Frankly, what's the big deal? The teacher is probably annoying as hell. Some teachers are painfully condescending and patronizing. I know I had a really hard time dealing with that crap all throughout high school. It was even worse because I had parents that treated me very well, and treated me like a fellow human being while they raised me, so my first reaction to teachers' condescention was anger, because it felt like a direct insult to me.

    Anyway, before you go calling this kid a dumbass or whatever, consider that not everyone handles things the same way you do.
  • by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:06PM (#15640284) Journal
    my tag for this article is "helphelpimbeingrepressed". I plan on using it for every one of these lame "fight the power" type of incidents where a student properly gets an administrative action against him for being a complete dickweed. I suspect I'll have plenty of chance to use it again.

    Suspending a student for wearing an anti-war t-shirt is censorship, and unacceptable. But sorry kid, this does not rise to that.

    Maybe I should shorten it to "dennis", but that's probably a bit obscure.

  • by Bague ( 713233 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @07:38PM (#15640449)
    My processes are now suspending INIT for sending them the kill signal!
  • by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:02PM (#15640582) Homepage Journal
    School violence has not been increasing, it's just the media sensationalizing the death of suburban white kids (I used to be one myself) tors.asp?PubPageNumber=1&ShowTablePage=TablesHTML/ table_1.1.asp []

    Violent Deaths at School and Away From School:

    Years School Away

    1992-93 34 3,584
    1993-94 29 3,804
    1994-95 28 3,552
    1995-96 32 3,305
    1996-97 28 2,952
    1997-98 34 2,728
    1998-99 33 2,366
    1999-00 14 2,126
    2000-01 12 2,047
    2001-02 17 2,036 []

    The percentage of students who reported being afraid of being attacked at school or on the way to and from school decreased from 12 % in 1995 to 6 % in 2001.

    Between 1993 and 2003, the percentage of students in grades 9-12 who reported carrying a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club on school property within the previous 30 days declined--from 12 % to 6 % nce.htm []

    Fewer than 1% of all homicides among school-age children occur on or around school grounds or on the way to and from school. ...the total number of events has decreased steadily since 1992-1993 school year...
  • Reality Check (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drrobin_ ( 131741 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:03PM (#15640583)
    I see a lot of comments about how death threats are unacceptable. I see a lot of comments about how free speech is not designed to protect this. I see a lot of people who have obviously forgotten about high school.

    To all the people who question this being a joke: Of COURSE it was a joke! Please don't tell me you haven't done pretty much the same thing. I don't like being lied to. This site is a gathering place for people who screw around on computers, and this "threat" is nothing more than a kid screwing around on a computer. Talk of this post columbine world is melodramatic adult scorn for youth culture, which has been through history, and still is, as constant a human behavior pattern as youth culture's intentionally offensive behavior toward scornful adults.

    If I say "fuck you" to someone, does that mean I want them to be raped?

    The whole point of the first amendment is to protect the speech that is distasteful, offensive, and disgusting. No other speech needs protecting.
    • Re:Reality Check (Score:3, Insightful)

      by syukton ( 256348 )
      "fuck you" has a colloquial meaning which is widely known and understood. "Kill Soandso" does not have a colloquial meaning, it only has one possible very literal interpretation.

      If the teacher believes 99% that it's a joke, then the kid is still making the teacher feel threatened (even if only by 1%) and there's still cause to remove him for the safety of the teacher. That teacher needs to properly educate 20-30 other students, to ensure that they grow mentally and psychologically in healthy ways. If having
      • Re:Reality Check (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MikeBabcock ( 65886 )
        I think the term has become much more coloquial than you might realize.

        "I'm gonna kill you" is a joke in many cases, to laugh at. Such as "I told the waiter its your birthday" ... "I'm gonna kill you!"

        Context is important.

        That said, as another poster pointed out, this is a discipline issue, not a federal crime issue. As such, the school should be allowed to limit speach beyond what would be reasonable for the state to do.
  • by rollingcalf ( 605357 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @08:20PM (#15640648)
    This is a school implenting discipline, not locking up the kid in jail. The school should definitely have a right to suspend him. Otherwise they have no power to implement discipline.

    Back in the day if I ever told a teacher at my high school to suck a donkey's balls, I would have been suspended immediately. A death threat (even if only displayed in own home) is worse than that.
    • by Dhalka226 ( 559740 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @10:17PM (#15641058)

      A death threat (even if only displayed in own home) is worse than that.

      You answered your own question. It's essentially a years-old debate about how far a school's authority should extend beyond its doors. I recall once when I was in sixth grade, I believe, I called some girl a bitch as we were walking home (she hit one of my friends with her bike as we were walking along the sidewalk). We were practically home. It was about three blocks away from school at the time. The next day, of course, I was called into the principal's office. (On another sort of annoying point, I seem to have been called in because the girl happened to be black. Now come on, if it had been race related, I could have come up with a better word than "bitch" yaknow?)

      Nothing ultimately happened, but I still question whether the school should have been involved at all. It's the same issue here.

      Is a death-threat against a teacher bad? Yes. But it obviously was not really serious. If it had been, when he was handed over to the police, they wouldn't have concluded it was a joke--and he likely would have been expelled, as well, if they truly thought it serious and not a joke (which their own psychologist also determined). After all, if a student was seriously threatening a teacher's life, he would just be more pissed off and more likely to make good on his threats when he came back from a suspension for it. So let's be honest with ourselves: It wasn't the death threat that got him in trouble, it was the age-old "you have to be nice to your teachers" rule in the form of a "death threat."

      Assuming I were a student in this school/class, if a friend and I are talking in my room about this teacher and, using your words, I suggest he should go suck donkey balls, should he be able to report me and get me suspended? At what point does their jurisdiction end? Surely they are not the police force of the Internet, are they? I think the proper reaction would be to turn it over to the police--which they did--and then butt out and let them handle it.

      They essentially held this kid back because of what both the police force and their own psychologist concluded was a joke. That is well beyond excessive, even if they should have some right to suspend him for something he says on the Internet to begin with--which I don't think they should.

Last yeer I kudn't spel Engineer. Now I are won.