A Bit Excessive, No?

A local TV station site reports:

Ryan Biggar, 16, and his 17-year-old girlfriend had permission to leave Middle Creek High School for an off-campus program. When their event was canceled for the day, they were caught having sex in the girl's home.

It violated school rules, and officials say those rules apply no matter where you are during school hours.

But ... Biggar's family is filing a lawsuit against the school system, saying his suspension for the rest of the school year is unconstitutional. He says he had no notice that private, consensual, off-campus sexual activity could subject him to school suspension....

Wake County school spokesman Michael Evans says that having sex during school hours breaks the rules — even in a private home.

"Whereever you are during school hours. It's a privilege to leave campus for lunch and you sign a form to that effect, as do your parents," Evans said. "So it was with full consent and knowledge that they participate under these rules and if they chose to break them then disciplinary action will come into play."

Court documents include a copy of the lunch permit application, which states that students exercising off-campus lunch privileges are subject to the rules of student conduct, as applicable to the regular school day. Biggar and one of his parents had signed the application....

I can't speak to whether the suspension violates school rules or state law — or violates the Due Process Clause because there wasn't adequate notice.

But setting aside the legal question, even if the student did violate the rules, isn't the punishment (what sounds like several weeks' suspension) somewhat disproportional to the offense? Yes, he was essentially playing hooky, and should be punished for that; but I don't see why it's the school's business whether he was playing hooky to have sex at home or playing hooky to play video games at home. (I believe that the age of consent in North Carolina is 16, so there's no question of illegality here.) Screwing up the boy's (and presumably the girl's) studying and exam schedule, and depriving them of a month or more of what one would hope is a valuable educational experience, doesn't seem to make much sense.

Thanks to reader Mike Bavli for the pointer.

UPDATE: My favorite comment, from commenter Thief: "Wow. From in loco parentis to simply loco."

More on the North Carolina Sex-Outside-School Case:

This article reports:

The suspension notice states that Ryan violated a policy that says: "No student shall engage in behavior which is indecent, overly affectionate, or of a sexual nature in the school setting."

"Students leave school and essentially take the rules with them," school board lawyer Ann Majestic said in a telephone interview Friday. "The parents and the student had signed a form indicating the conditions under which a student could be off campus during the lunch hour, and it made it clear that school rules applied while the student was off campus." ...

I'm not sure that the policy is so vague that it can't be constitutionally enforced here -- much depends on the exact terms of the form -- but it seems to me that the policy's terms further suggest that the school is acting improperly. The policy itself seems to be pretty clearly focused on behavior in school or during school-sponsored events. The purpose of the policy seems to be to maintain decorum and a proper environment for learning at school. A student who's familiar with the policy would, I think, interpret it precisely this way.

If a form then says that "school rules appl[y] while the student [is] off campus," I doubt that a reasonable student would assume that this means no french kissing (might well be "overly affectionate," no?) at home or even in the car on the way to the event. I'd say that many perfectly sensible students would understand this as simply covering the things you would do while on the field trip, surrounded by students or others. That behavior in public on a school-related field trip is treated as being part of the "school setting" doesn't mean that behavior at home while playing hooky from the field trip would be treated the same way.

But even if it's not unconstitutional to apply the policy to bar sex or french kissing at home, on the theory that such behavior is barred "in the school setting" and a form says that "school rules appl[y] while the student was off campus," surely it's not quite fair -- especially when the contemplated punishment seems to be suspension for the rest of the year, which, as the news story points out, "[s]pending so much time away puts him in jeopardy of repeating 11th grade and not graduating with his class next spring."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the North Carolina Sex-Outside-School Case:
  2. A Bit Excessive, No?