Suspension Over Sexy Slumber Party Photos Leads to ACLU Lawsuit
Lawsuit: Teens were unfairly punished for sexy photos taken off school grounds.
Nov. 2, 2009— -- Two Indiana teenagers whose sexually suggestive slumber party pictures made their way into the hands of the high school principal are fighting back against what they say is an unfair suspension from athletics for activities that took place off school grounds.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed suit on behalf of the two sophomore girls. The suit claims the Smith-Green Community School Corporation and Churubusco High School Principal Austin Couch violated the girls' First Amendment rights when they suspended them from extra-curricular activities and forced them to attend counseling sessions over a few racy photos that were posted on their MySpace pages.
"I don't think this is a unique problem of trying to define that line as to where the school stops and where student expression begins," Indiana ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk, also the girls' attorney, told ABCNews.com today.
According to the lawsuit, filed Oct. 23 in U.S. District Court, the teens -- identified in court papers as T.V. and M.K. -- had attended a sleepover with friends who were also students at Churubusco High School in the summer months before school started.
"During the sleepover, the girls took pictures of themselves pretending to kiss or lick a large multi-colored novelty lollipop-shaped phallus that they had purchased, as well as pictures of themselves in lingerie with dollar bills stuck in their clothes as well as other pictures," the lawsuit stated.
"They intended this to be humorous and all the participants considered it to be so," it continued.
The lawsuit claims that the girls, who in no way identified themselves in the pictures as students of Churubusco High School, then posted the pictures on their MySpace pages to share with their friends.
"There's a lot of questions that can be asked about what sophomores do. That's why there's the term 'sophomoric,'" Falk said. But he added that the girls' actions, which the lawsuit referred to as "expressive activity," were "irrelevant" to school functions.
An uknown person was able to access the pictures, copy them and hand them over to school personnel. They were eventually given to Couch, who suspended both T.V. and M.K. from all extra-curricular activities for the school year, including athletics, which both of the girls participated in.
The lawsuit claims that both teens' parents spoke with the principal and were told that he could cut down the punishment to suspend them from just 25 percent of the girls' activities only if they went to three counseling sessions and individually apologize to the school's athletic board, which is comprised of the school's varsity head coaches.
"That is simply beyond the power of the school to regulate," Falk said.
Darnell told ABCNews.com today that he's been advised by the school's legal counsel not to comment beyond a one-page statement issued today.
In the statement, Darnell said the girls' pictures "were highly inappropriate in content" and that they "caused a disruption within our athletic teams at the beginning of this year's sessions."
"We stand behind decisions made by Mr. Austin Couch, the high school principal, in this situation," Darnell's statement said. "When students choose to violate extra-curricular expectations, there are consequences."
"As a district, we support our student behavior policies for expected behavior in and out of season," the statement continued. "Our administration at the high school makes every effort to assure fairness exists for all of our students."