Lawsuit: Rights of Colerain students violated in expulsion over rap videos

Published: Sep. 4, 2014 at 3:21 AM EDT
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The students were expelled from Colerain High School for making rap music videos off campus,...
The students were expelled from Colerain High School for making rap music videos off campus, the lawsuit's preliminary statement reads.(FOX19 NOW file photo)

COLERAIN TOWNSHIP, OH (FOX19) - Four parents of African-American students at Colerain High School are suing the Northwest Local School District and several Colerain Township Police Department officers alleging their constitutional rights were violated.

The students were expelled from school for making rap music videos off campus, the lawsuit's preliminary statement reads.

A total of 14 students were expelled or recommended for expulsion for specific violations of the district's code of conduct.

The federal suit, filed Tuesday morning on behalf of the students, states the students were rounded up April 10 by Colerain High School administrators and police officers and interrogated about social media posts and their "affiliations with other African-American youth."

The parents said school administrators showed the students photos from social media of fellow classmates making "street" signs and participating in rap videos.

Administrators reportedly accused more than a dozen African-American students of belonging to a gang and said the posts on social media made several unidentified parents and students feel "uncomfortable," it states.

"It is not a crime to be an African-American teenager," the lawsuit's preliminary statement reads. "Yet, on April 10, 2014, Colerain High School administrators in coordination with Colerain Township police officers acted as if it were when they rounded up African-American students, held them in a windowless room guarded by armed police officers for upwards of six hours."

The lawsuit also alleges that white students at Colerain High School who behaved similarly were not questioned, searched, seized or disciplined.

However, the Colerain Township Police Department received a "very real" threat toward a school resource officer during the 2013 through 2014 school year, according to department spokesman James Love.

The department began investigating the threat made on Facebook. Love said it came from one of the students involved in the lawsuit.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Northwest Local School District said the federal lawsuit contains "considerable inaccurate information."

According to the district, students of other races were suspended and expelled as well, as opposed to only African-American students.

"The district recognizes that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school door, as determined by the US Supreme Court and other case law," the statement reads. "However, the district does recognize its right and duty to lim­it student speech when those actions interfere with the safety of students, or the ability of the administration to maintain a school environment that is conducive to learning.

The school district added that all suspensions and expulsions were completed and the students have since returned to school.

"We will respect confidential student records as to all members of the student population and, therefore, limit publicly shared information," the district added.

The parents behind the lawsuit are seeking three things:

1. A "declaration" that the school district's actions were unconstitutional.

2. A complete expungement of any reference to the students' suspensions and expulsions in their transcripts and student files.

3. Changes to the policies and procedures of the district and police department so that the same situation does not happen again.

The parents filing the lawsuit are being represented by Robert Newman of Newman & Meeks. Both the parents and their lawyers will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. Tuesday from the Legal Aid of Society of Cincinnati offices downtown.

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