/First overturn of a Manheim Township student’s expulsion leaves Lancaster County school districts concerned

First overturn of a Manheim Township student’s expulsion leaves Lancaster County school districts concerned

Photo by Siya Patel

By Anisha Parida and Scotland Reynolds

On February 25, 2019, Judge Leonard Brown III ruled in favor of appealing the expulsion of a former Manheim Township High School student, known only to the public as Jaden or J.S. The resolution was a controversial one, triggering both a sense of righteousness and discouragement in its recipients. Following the court’s announcement, a letter was sent out to the students and families of Manheim Township informing them of this contentious ruling. The judge’s decision marks the first overturn of a student’s expulsion from MTHS in five years.

During May of 2018, Jaden, a junior at the time, was expelled from MTHS after a message chain from Snapchat, involving two other students at the high school, was initiated. The incident began after Jaden sent pictures to a fellow classmate via social media, portraying another student as a school shooter. These Snapchat messages were later screenshotted by the receiver of the original messages and posted onto his/her Snapchat story for amusement. This displayed the picture to a wider audience, consequently contributing to Jaden’s expulsion. One member of this audience was the child of a teacher at Manheim Township, who then informed his father of the incident. Shortly after finding out, the teacher notified the school, which alerted authorities. Thereafter, the police went to Jaden’s house and determined that he posed no immediate threat to the school. He was charged, however, with terroristic threats and harassment.

According to Manheim Township School District, Jaden’s threats were described to be “in violation of the school’s terroristic threats and cyberbullying policies.” Marcie Brody, the district’s spokeswoman, informed the public that four students have been expelled from Manheim Township in recent years, but appealing an expulsion is an instance that is very rare and almost never successful.

The following month after the expulsion, Jaden and his family decided to press charges against the school, claiming the messages he sent were a joke, and were not to be considered threatening. Eight months later, in February of 2019, the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of Jaden and his family’s appeal.

The judge’s decision came from the belief that “the school district officials did not provide evidence to back up the expulsion.” The family’s attorney claimed that Jaden was someone who was “caught up in a silly game who exercised bad judgement.” As requested by Jaden’s family, the recipient of the picture was asked to testify in court but was not present at the hearing. Considering this condition, along with the fact that the messages were sent off school grounds, were important rationales as to why Judge Brown reversed Jaden’s expulsion.

Once the ruling was determined, the school was given one month to appeal against Judge Brown’s decision. The district superintendent, Dr. Robin Felty, later spoke out, saying, “Although we are grateful that Judge Brown recognizes the ‘daunting challenges faced by schools in today’s world,’ we are nevertheless concerned that the result of the decision will be that the students and staff of our High School will feel less safe.”

Manheim Township is not the only school who feels the outcome of this ruling poses a greater threat to the safety and well-being of schools. Superintendents and administrators around Lancaster County maintained a similar viewpoint to that of Felty’s. “The ruling in the Manheim Township case creates a situation where it becomes potentially ‘OK’ to make threatening posts or statements without fear of any consequence,” claims the superintendent of Donegal School District, Michael Lausch. Additionally, Eastern Lancaster County Superintendent, Bob Hollister, and former Columbia Borough School Board President Tom Strickler also supported the school district, saying this was not an easy decision and students should be held accountable for what they say.

Jaden will not be attending MTHS to finish his senior year. Instead, he has decided to enroll in online school. This incident has promoted further caution regarding the well-being of not only students, but the administration and community. Students are now aware more than ever of the consequences of what could happen if they post something harmful online, even if it appears to be in a joking manner. Outcomes of situations similar to this one, can be extremely detrimental to everybody involved, and students can observe from a firsthand point of view at Manheim Township High School.