BREWER, Maine — Three students were suspended from Brewer High School this week for posting comments about the Edward Little High School basketball team on a social networking site.
Two junior boys, who asked that their names not be used, said they were suspended along with a female sophomore. The two boys said they were called into the principal’s office Wednesday and were suspended for five days and barred from after-school activities for the rest of the school year, and possibly part of next year. The female sophomore, who did not return a message seeking comment, was suspended for three days, they said.
The mother of one of the boys said the school overstepped its boundaries by suspending the students since they wrote the comments off school property.
Edward Little beat Brewer during the Eastern Maine Class A boy’s basketball final on Friday, Feb. 19. The Brewer students said trash talk between students from both schools began shortly afterward on Facebook, a social networking site.
The Facebook fan page where the comments were written last weekend has been taken down, but the male Brewer students recounted what they wrote.
They said the most controversial comments referred to the Auburn school as “just a bunch of Somalians,” that a basketball player was “probably an illegal immigrant,” and another response contained the word “faggot.”
“It was basically a talking-smack fest between Edward Little and Brewer and somehow it got back to the school and myself and two other people got suspended,” one of the two boys, who is 16, said on Thursday. “They said we were misrepresenting Brewer High School. I don’t see that. It was done after school, off school prop-erty and on our own personal computers.”
His mother, Karen Ridell, agreed.
“I felt this is something that should be dealt with at home,” she said. “I’m very upset about what my son did. They did make some rude comments back and forth and I’m not very happy about that. However, it did not involve the school. It did not happen at school.”
Brewer Superintendent of Schools Daniel Lee said he could not comment on the suspensions.
“The practice is we don’t discuss student discipline matters in the news,” he said. “It doesn’t prevent a student from talking, but it certainly prohibits me from commenting on it.”
Lee said Brewer’s student code of conduct addresses the use of computers and other electronic devices.
“We have a number of policies that cover a number of items, including cyber-bullying,” Lee said Friday. “If students are harassing each other outside of school and it disrupts the operation at school, it’s our business.”
Edward Little is part of the Auburn School Department. Superintendent Tom Morrill said as soon as the situation was brought to the attention of Brewer officials, they acted quickly.
“It was handled very, very respectfully,” he said Friday afternoon.
“We’re into a new digital world,” he added. “I think that young people are just coming to grips with the permanency and impact” of their Internet postings.
“Intolerant labels — [they have] impact” on those targeted, Morrill said. “It’s up to people to stop.”
The Brewer students said no threats were made, but admitted some of the comments they made could be considered discriminatory.
“It was an ignorant comment,” the 16-year-old junior, who is a Brewer High football player, said about his reference to Somalis. “I didn’t say anything bad about that race, but of course it comes across as a racial comment.”
He said he immediately regretted making the post, apologized online shortly afterward, and removed the comment. He has since written a letter of apology to Edward Little, which he forwarded to Brewer school officials.
“Although I may have come across as a hateful person, or even a racist, I would like to inform you that I am neither of these things,” he wrote. “I’m just a student, 16 years old, who was upset over our fourth loss to your school in basketball!”
“The conversations were immature and unnecessary, and believe me; my punishment has been far more than enough to teach me my lesson,” the teenager stated.
His sister, who also attends Brewer High School, said she and her friends are upset by the school’s actions, which she says stretch thin the school’s code of conduct rules.
“The code of conduct says ‘These rules and policies apply to any student who is on school grounds, who is in attendance at school or any school-sponsored activities, [and] whose conduct at any time or place directly interferes with the operation, discipline, or impacts the general welfare of the school,’” she said. “We feel this incident didn’t relate to the general welfare of the school.”
The students and Ridell said what happens at home should be handled at home. Ridell also said school officials should stick to education.
“They should not be policing the Internet to see what the kids are doing after hours,” she said.
The school has made efforts to educate students about using Internet sites, including having a representative from the Maine Attorney General’s Office make a presentation, Lee said. And another educational assembly is scheduled for next year, “about how to be safe and what’s OK and what’s not OK,” he said. “We don’t make it a point to get on Facebook and check things out.”
Schools and law enforcement agencies across the nation have started monitoring the Internet to spot those who post wrongdoings for all the world to see. Facebook photos of underage drinking parties have come back to haunt those involved, and criminals have been caught after posting pictures and videos of their crimes on the World Wide Web.
This week a sociology professor at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania was suspended indefinitely after she posted comments on Facebook that she said were jokes, according to an Associated Press story.
Professor Gloria Gadsden said she jokingly referred to looking for a “discrete” hit man in one post and removed another comment that said she didn’t want to kill any students but “Friday was a different story.”