15-year-old charged in O'Fallon school threat
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, teens across the nation will be exercising their free speech rights by walking out of classes for 17 minutes. They are marking one month since 17 people died in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting .
Their right to do so is covered by the First Amendment, with a federal court interpretation that their speech rights don't end at the schoolhouse door.
Still, those rights have limits and consequences.
Highland High School is placing reasonable rules on their students, with parental permission slips getting students an excused absence to participate. There are consequences if students don't get permission or have too many absences already, though, and they may need to take a final exam.
Schools cannot tell students where to protest, but there are consequences if a protest gets unruly or roads are blocked. Encouraging the students to be in a supervised zone is wise on the part of administrators.
And being asked to do a paper on free speech or civil disobedience or gun control could be a reasonable and legal consequence of their actions. This should become a teachable moment.
The dark side of teens, free speech and school shootings was recently illustrated for them as well. Just as you don't have the freedom to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theater, you can't threaten a school.
Two teens are currently in trouble, including an O'Fallon teen facing terrorist felonies for writing "I'm going to shoot this (expletive) up" on the wall of an elementary school.
The 15-year-old was not in school, likely with too much time on his hands, and thought it was a joke when he admitted he made a sad, stupid plea for attention. He finds himself at the beginning of the consequences, in juvenile detention.
Superintendent Carrie Hruby described school students literally terrified by the threat. There were 170 absences as a result.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said this is no time to make school threats, not that there's ever a time. He underscored the seriousness with four felony counts.
Freedom of speech guarantees no one freedom from accountability for that speech.