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New York school defends student suspension for tweet

9:48 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WGRZ) -- A senior at West Seneca East High School has been suspended for sending out a tweet outside of classtime about a teacher.  School administrators call the punishment fair.

Brandon Guzda is an athlete and honor society student, but he's suspended for five days because of something he wrote on Twitter.

"I put a swear word and then the teacher's name and then I wrote #freedomofspeech," said Guzda.

He says it was written in frustration after a school hockey game that he attended. 

"I was cheering for my team and I jumped on the boards, the glass, cheering on an exciting play."

West Seneca East High School Principal tells 2 On Your Side's Claudine Ewing that Brandon and a few other students were misbehaving at the game. "It was reported that inappropriate language was being used, inappropriate behavior, climbing on the glass, some students throwing things onto the ice creating safety concerns," said Jonathan Cervoni.  A police officer was on hand to help escort the students out of the facility.

It was a few days later when Brandon's mom received a letter indicating that Brandon was being suspended.  The reason: "disrupting the educational process through the inappropriate comments about a teacher on Twitter."

Both Brandon and his mom believe the suspension was harsh.  He says it's all about freedom of speech, so he started a petition and already over 200 students have signed it.

Cervoni said "some people may refer to that tweet as threatening as intimidating. Some could refer to it as sexual in nature," and as the principal he took action to ensure the safety and welfare of students and staff.

According to other experts in education, just about any school could penalize a student for what Guzda did, if it thought it was serious enough. The school may not have a social media policy, but it probably has an "Acceptable Use Policy" and a "Code of Conduct," and all schools need to follow the "Dignity for All Students" law.

"So whether it's something that occurs online or something that occurs at home on the weekends, if anything related to off campus behavior is brought into the school in some way to cause a disruption to the school environment that's reachable," said JoAnn Balazs, the management director at Erie 1 BOCES.

What may be different among schools is whether students can post on social media on school grounds. For example, in Niagara Falls City Schools, staff and students can't use social media in the classroom. In Williamsville, Facebook is blocked for staff and students. However, they can use Twitter and YouTube. Plus each incident on social media could vary.

"It depends on how serious it is and it depends on whether law enforcement is involved whether the courts are involved," said Ralph Hernandez, the vice president of executive affairs for Buffalo Public Schools.

WGRZ