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Decision Number
Suspension of J.M.
Jan M.
Colfax-Mingo Community School District
Full Text

Principal Jones found that J.M. violated the provision of CMCSD's Student Conduct Policy regarding conduct that "causes [a] material and substantial disruption to the school environment and presents a threat to the health and safety of students, personnel, and visitors on the school premises" for having pornographic pictures of other CHS students on his phone at school and distributing those pictures to others. Additionally, Principal Jones found that J.M. violated CMCSD's Good Conduct Policy as a result of that behavior.Principal Jones immediately issued a three day out-of-school suspension under the Student Conduct Policy (502.1A) and a suspension of four calendar weeks from participation in athletics under the Good Conduct Policy (502.6) to each of the boys involved, including J.M., for being in possession of pornographic material, including photos of CHS female students while at school, and forwarding the material to other students.

The Appellants did not dispute the facts before the Board but instead argued that J.M.'s conduct was not criminal and his conduct was not specifically included in the laundry list of items which would be considered a violation under the Student Conduct and Good Conduct policies. Specifically, they argued that it is not illegal to have naked pictures on a private cell phone and that J.M. is not the only student to have naked pictures. They also argued that the only disruption to the school was the actions of administration during the investigation of the incident and not the conduct itself.In appeals to the State Board under Iowa Code chapter 290, the legislature has mandated that the State Board render a decision that is "just and equitable." It is well settled that the State Board cannot overturn a local board decision unless the local decision is "unreasonable and contrary to the best interest of education." In re Jesse Bachman, 13 D.o.E. App. Dec. 363, 369 (1996) Thus, the standard of review is a test of reasonableness.

School districts have broad discretion to punish students who break the rules as long as the district follows appropriate due process requirements. The paramount case in good conduct appeals is Brands v. Sheldon Community School District, 671 F. Supp. 627, 630-631(N.D. Iowa 1987). Brands established several principles that apply to students and interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities. First, a secondary student has no "right" to participate in interscholastic athletics or other extracurricular activities. Id. Second, since there is no right to participate, the amount of due process owed to a student in such cases is minimal. Id. Due process only requires notice and opportunity to be heard. Id. Lastly, Brands established that in order for a student to be disciplined under a schools good conduct policy there need only be "some evidence" that a student violated the policy. Id.

Although J.M.'s conduct was not specifically listed in the rules we find that a reasonable interpretation of the rules would encompass J.M.'s behavior. First, while J.M. may not have been charged criminally for his conduct that does not take away the criminal nature of the incident. J.M. was disseminating nude photos of other female CHS students to other students in both junior high and high school. There is no question that these photos were continuing to be circulated to students throughout the school. In a day and age where social media makes it possible to disseminate photos far and wide with a simple text message or post online, having nude photos of students floating out there for all to see is a huge problem for the District. J.M. could easily have been charged in state court with several counts of disseminating obscene material to a minor', sexual exploitation of a minors, or in federal court with possession and dissemination of child pornography.The Appellants' argument that administration was responsible for the disruption because of their investigation into an issue that was brought to their attention by a junior high student is absurd. Furthermore, the idea that the District should ignore this type of illegal behavior is obnoxious. Once Principal Jones was made aware of the nude photos of CHS female students that were being circulated to junior high and high school boys he had a legal responsibility to investigate the incident and stop further dissemination. To do nothing and sweep it under the rug because "everyone is doing it" as the Appellants suggests would equate to deliberate indifference and potentially subject the District to liability.

J.M.'s conduct is the perfect example of off campus conduct spilling onto campus. Even though J.M. had these photos on his private cell phone, the subsequent dissemination of nude photos of CHS female students to other male students at CHS and possession of the photos at school created substantial nexus to the school. Even assuming arguendo that that J.M.'s conduct did not spill onto campus, the law is clear that districts may govern out of school conduct of its students who participate in extracurricular activities because "these student leaders are looked up to and emulated" and "they represent the school and depict its character." Bunger,197 N.W. 2d at 564. Under these circumstances there is no question J.M.'s conduct led to a material and substantial disruption to the school environment and presented a threat to the health and safety of students, personnel, and visitors on the school premises. To find otherwise would be unreasonable. There is more than enough evidence that J.M. violated the District's Student Conduct Policy and Good Conduct policy. The punishment imposed here in many ways seems entirely too light considering the possible ramifications here. However, we will not substitute our judgement for that of the Board. As long as the punishment is reasonable, the decision will be upheld. This Board cannot say that the decision of the CMCSD Board is unreasonable.

The decision of CMCSD Board made on May 12, 2015, to suspend J.M. from school for three days and from athletics for four calendar weeks for a violation of the district's Student Conduct and Good Conduct policies is hereby AFFRIMED.