Steve Earley – The Virginian-Pilot
Hickory High senior Michelle Edwards
Michelle Edwards is paying a high price for posting a note about her teacher on Facebook: suspension, with a recommendation for expulsion.
The Hickory High senior posted the note Oct. 19 after she and a friend netted a lower-than-expected grade – 93 percent – on an English essay. The teacher called part of it “incoherent,” and the friend was upset, so Edwards said she commiserated. “I say we shoot our english teacher in the face,” she posted on the friend’s wall. “But then again we might not be able to carry that out since we’re so incoherent.” Edwards meant it as sarcasm, but another Hickory teacher saw the post and reported it, said John Edwards, the girl’s father. Now she is banned from school, receiving home tutoring and waiting for the School Board to set a date for deciding whether she’ll be expelled. Tom Cupitt, spokesman for Chesapeake schools, said he can’t comment on the case because it’s a pupil personnel matter. Harry Murphy, chairman of the School Board, also said he can’t comment on specific incidents.
“Any threat to any staff member or any student is taken seriously, no matter how it’s communicated – verbal, written, social networking,” he said.
John Edwards said school officials have said they’re sure Michelle meant no harm. Nevertheless, they’re still recommending expulsion.
“My daughter was trying to make light of the situation,” he said. “It was a poor choice of words. She made a sarcastic statement, and next thing you know, it’s turned into a full-blown mess…. The people in the administration, from the principal up, have blinders on.” The family went through multiple hearings with school officials. During one, a top official took a cellphone call while a statement was being read, Edwards said. “It was like they already knew what they were going to do.” WVEC first reported the story earlier this week. This isn’t the first time a Chesapeake student has reported what he or she thought was an overly harsh sanction. In March, a Hickory Middle School student was suspended and recommended for expulsion because he passed around a bag of oregano. School officials treated it like marijuana, calling the oregano “an imitation controlled substance.” After the family’s lawyer threatened a lawsuit, the division rescinded the suspension. The Edwardses are also considering hiring a lawyer, the father said. Chesapeake has a record of expelling more students than surrounding divisions. According to data kept by the state, Chesapeake expelled 25 students last year, while Portsmouth and Suffolk each expelled nine. Norfolk and Virginia Beach expelled none. Michelle Edwards said she’s never been in trouble, either in school or with the law. When she was called to the office on Oct. 20, she thought she must be getting commended for something. She maintains a grade point average over 3.5 on a 4.0 scale and participates in church activities. On Sunday, she spoke to her church youth group. “I told them you have to watch out what you say,” she recounted Tuesday. That includes Facebook, where students don’t think they’re being watched, she said.
Her case began just a month after the Chesapeake board passed a policy strongly discouraging teachers from interacting with students through social networking. The teacher who caught her post didn’t seem to be following that advice – Edwards said the teacher is Facebook friends with the girl on whose wall she posted.
Edwards was thinking about attending Tidewater Community College next year, possibly to study design. She’s also thought about becoming a teacher. That could all change, she said, if she gets expelled. “With this, there’s no telling what will happen now.”