Skip

A brand new way to harass misfits at school.
March 27, 2001 1:16 AM   Subscribe

A brand new way to harass misfits at school. First, accuse them of being terrorists. Then hide behind a proposed California law (see last paragraph of article) that protects you from being sued by the accused for defamation. What happened to the Tapia family, whose daughter Kristina made just such an accusation (apparently in good faith) and who have since run up $40,000 in legal bills defending her from a suit from the family of the kid she reported (who was arrested and expelled), is of course a travesty, but is a "shield" law the right solution when it's all too easy to imagine it just making the whole "zero tolerance" environment of U.S. public schools even more sick and twisted?
posted by kindall (13 comments total)

 
Yeah, it's a CNN link. I'd say "so sue me," except my shields are up.
posted by kindall at 1:16 AM on March 27, 2001


I don't know much about this particular incident, but I don't think it's automatically wrong that one should be allowed to sue for defamation, not as long as the schools have the "right" to turn your life upside down no matter how meaningless the claim against you. It would be preferable if the school could be sued instead of the accuser, though, since it's the school that took the accusation, made it public and used it to destroy the boy's life. Even better, they ought to be able to sue the individual school employees involved.
posted by aaron at 9:53 AM on March 27, 2001


The girl acted in good faith, doing what she had been told was proper in light of hearing what sounded like a real problem. The boy said something reprehensible; whether or not there was enough evidence to show that he intended to carry out his threat, he still made it. The responsibility here is his and his alone -- if he did not want to have his life turned upside down, he shouldn't have said that he was going to kill people. To blame someone else for the ramifications of his own comments is twisted, and its sickening that his parents would go along with it to the extent of filing a lawsuit against the girl who did nothing wrong.
posted by Dreama at 10:12 AM on March 27, 2001


It was entirely appropriate for the kid who was expelled to sue his accuser. To win, he had to prove that his accuser deliberately lied about him, or recklessly ignored a significant risk that her accusations were false.

The only way that the accuser's family could have run up $40,000 in legal bills is if the expelled kid had some good evidence that in fact the accuser knew she was lying or recklessly ignored the risk that she was reporting as fact something that was in fact not true.

That the school board reversed the expulsion and reprimanded the school for expelling the kid shows even more that the evidence was solid.

The savage wrongness of requiring (or even protecting) unfounded or malicious accusations is one of the very good reasons why the Anglo-American legal tradition so firmly rejects obligatory "Good Samaritan" rules.
posted by MattD at 10:19 AM on March 27, 2001


The boy said something reprehensible;

Is there any actual evidence for this? Not in the story I linked to. His expulsion was after all reversed by the county Board of Education; as far as I can tell, it's a he-said she-said situation.

Not that I'm explicitly taking his side either, I just think it's a really, really bad idea to let people make any accusation they like and then shield them against being sued. Such a law may have helped the Tapias in this case, and their daughter may well have acted in good faith, but there's far too much potential for abuse in a law like that.
posted by kindall at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2001


The only way that the accuser's family could have run up $40,000 in legal bills is if the expelled kid had some good evidence

Not quite.

Say you've got one lawyer billing at $150/hr. The work of the paralegal staff, billed at $75/hr. Legal admin. assistant work billed at $25/hr.

Then say there were five different 1 to 2 hour phone conferences with the various parties, each billed at $500. Add in three 3-hour meetings at $1,000 a pop. Add in administrative costs for fillings and so forth.

Now, this case has been going on for nearly two years. But if you do the math, if this was a lawyer's primary case with a light case load, a $40k tab could be run up in 6 weeks time. It's hardly out of the ordinary.

Is there any actual evidence for this? Not in the story I linked to.

Okay, let me rephrase. The girl reported that she heard the boy say something reprehensible. Now, all we know is that the school board could not find corraborative evidence that he made the threat. It did not say that there was any evidence to suggest that Tapia lied nor has there been any suggestion that she had any reason to. And that can be the sum total of a slander suit, because if it's true, it isn't slander. It comes down to he said, she said, and whose story is more compelling. I don't see any reason why she would maintain a lie for two years in the face of a growing legal battle but there are plenty of reasons why he would continue to maintain that he never said what he said.
posted by Dreama at 12:48 PM on March 27, 2001


The girl reported that she heard the boy say something reprehensible. Now, all we know is that the school board could not find corraborative evidence that he made the threat. It did not say that there was any evidence to suggest that Tapia lied nor has there been any suggestion that she had any reason to.

No suggestion in the article, but there are a million reasons someone might want to go to the principal's office and say "Hey, this person made a death threat." Someone did that with me, but it didn't get out to the school, because nothing happened, in the end. If you're forced to get tormented by a bunch of kids who call you a terrorist... you should have some way react to that, yeah.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2001


For this boy to have been expelled, I hope there is a lot more to the story than is being reported. In spite of the "threat" having been made in the wake of Columbine, it was still only words. A teenage male talking, and that is all. Unless, of course, this kid had other discipline problems, if he had been in trouble with the school before, things like that. Then I would understand a little better, but as it stands, this overzealous zero-tolerance policy is going to cut off all modes of emotional expression, which is going to prove more harmful in the long run.
posted by elf_baby at 2:08 PM on March 27, 2001


I don't see any reason why she would maintain a lie for two years in the face of a growing legal battle...

I can think of plenty.
posted by aaron at 3:10 PM on March 27, 2001



Yeah, so can I. Ever try to get a teenager to admit they made a mistake about something?
posted by kindall at 3:26 PM on March 27, 2001


I feel for both kids here. Something does need to be done, but I'm not sure this is the solution.

The two high schools in my hometown have had thirty evacuations due to bomb threats.

Since January.

They tried taking a less hyper approach to the threats but of course parents objected. They've arrested a couple of kids, but the threats keep turning up (usually written on a bathroom wall), and everybody basically gets a free pass to go home for half a day. (Naturally, if it's the morning, truancy rates for the second half are enormous.)

Going back to JonKatz's Hellmouth series on /. I seriously worry about geek profiling -- the last thing our schools need is Japanese-style conformity -- but we also need to start dealing with these problems before they start.

Maybe it's just that the legal system is the wrong place for this to be handled. But try telling that to the OTHER parents ...
posted by dhartung at 3:53 PM on March 27, 2001


I'd be in prison for all the stupid shit I did growing up! Perhaps in a parrallel universe that's where we've all met before, at the Prison for the Stupid Kid That Doesn't Think Things Through Like An Adult Yet. And another thing, how do these adult legislators escape?
posted by crasspastor at 4:51 PM on March 27, 2001


I asked kindall to post this link because I don't have enough privileges yet. In talking about it, it seems to me that we're approaching that "you can't win if you're a teenager" thing again. At Santee high school, several kids heard the alleged-in-name-only shooter say the prior weekend that he'd thought about this. In return, they were somewhat diligent: they asked him if he was serious, they talked to adults (but not school administration), one even said he "frisked" the kid on the way into school that day, but didn't find the weapons. When they said all that on the news, in shock, they found themselves transferred to other schools "for their own safety."

It's not going to be long before the ACLU gets involved here. No one wants school violence, but you can't create a situation where you get expelled for not reporting something potentially destructive a classmate says, and get sued for not being right if you do. If you're a high school student and you see a kid across the aisle from you in Trig drawing up a "hit list," what do you do? Tell and risk ruining his life -- and yours? Don't tell and risk ruining your life and lots of others?

A shield law that gives unqualified immunity to kids to ruin each others' lives by ratting each other out is clearly not the right answer. I just have no clue what is.
posted by mdeatherage at 5:38 PM on March 27, 2001


« Older Herbal remedies   |   Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post