Nevada school board member applauds 9th Circuit's ruling on expulsion

Nevada school board member applauds 9th Circuit's ruling on expulsion
State police stand guard at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on the day of the campus' 2007 mass shooting. A Nevada high school student was expelled after referencing the case in threatening messages in 2008. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Neal Freitas thinks the system worked.

On Tuesday, the Nevada school board member applauded a recent federal appeals court ruling that upheld the expulsion of a former student who referenced the Virginia Tech massacre and threatened violence against classmates through social media five years ago.


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that Landon Wynar's threats to massacre classmates at Douglas High School in the town of Minden were not protected by the 1st Amendment.

Wynar was a 16-year-old sophomore when he was arrested in 2008 after students reported his comments in messages on MySpace. He filed a lawsuit in 2009 claiming the school board had no authority to suspend him for things done off school property.

But Freitas, who was elected in January to the Douglas County School Board, said the message was already out at schools: You can't use social media as a springboard for violent threats.

"One of his classmates reported his threats as a safety issue," Freitas told the Los Angeles Times. "They went to a football coach. That's how this whole thing got started. Students knew that this type of thing was simply not appropriate."

The San Francisco-based appellate court said Wynar's comments and images evoking the slayings at Virginia Tech presented a clear danger to others. Wynar was jailed for 31 days and suspended for 10 days until an expulsion hearing before the Douglas County School Board led to his being removed from school.

Judge Margaret McKeown wrote in the opinion last week that Wynar "engaged in a string of increasingly violent and threatening instant messages sent from his home to his friends, bragging about his weapons, threatening to shoot specific classmates, intimidating that he would 'take out' other people at a school shooting on a specific date and invoking the image of the Virginia Tech massacre."

Virginia Tech's campus was the scene in April 2007 of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history when a student-gunman killed 32 students and faculty before killing himself.

Wynar later claimed his messages were a joke.

"That's the thing," Freitas told The Times. "You can't make threats of this magnitude and then turn around and say you were just joking. The rules about what you should and should not say on social media has become an issue not just in the schools, but in the workplace as well."

The court said that in such a circumstance, the district could take disciplinary action against off-campus speech and was responsible to do so.

"But the students got the ball rolling themselves," Freitas told the Times on Tuesday. "They didn't write it off as just Joe being Joe. They know what the rules are about students expressing violent ideas about what they're planning to do about this or that.

"A court decision is fine and dandy, but it's good to know there was some common sense a long time before that."


Twitter: @jglionna