Kansas Court Says Student Can’t Be Expelled For Tweets

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Blake Neff Reporter
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A panel of judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals has struck a blow against the Obama administration’s tough policies concerning Title IX by reversing a student’s expulsion over comments made on Twitter.

Back in 2013, after an argument with his ex-girlfriend, University of Kansas (UK) student Navid Yeasin was given an order by his school not to contact her (the student is identified only as W).

After receiving this order, Yeasin took to Twitter, where he referred to W as a “psycho bitch” and “piece of shit” without mentioning her by name. W saw the tweets and complained to UK administrators, who determined that even though Yeasin hadn’t approached W in real life or done anything to contact her directly, he had still violated the no-contact order. Yeasin was given a warning telling him to stop mentioning W on social media “directly or indirectly.” Yeasin said he complied, but the school believed later tweets by him were also targeted at W, such as one linking to the article “30 Reasons to Love Natural Breasts” (W had received breast implants).

Ultimately, based on his Twitter conduct, Yeasin was brought before a disciplinary panel and expelled. He sued the school, claiming his expulsion was illegal.

Now, a three-judge panel says Yeasin should be readmitted to UK, mostly on the narrow grounds that the school’s code of conduct doesn’t govern comments made off-campus that have no relation to any of the school’s academic functions.

But the ruling also has broader implications for how the Obama administration has sought to combat sexual harassment. Since 2011, the administration has used the federal Title IX law (prohibiting gender-based discrimination in education) to require schools to investigate and punish sexual assault and sexual harassment or else risk losing federal funds. UK attempted to justify its expulsion of Yeasin by saying that Title IX requires it to extend its jurisdiction off-campus.

The court’s ruling doesn’t explicitly say that UK’s interpretation of Title IX is wrong (as its ruling was made on narrower grounds), but the three judges are also very critical of the argument in their ruling.

“The University is not an agency of law enforcement but is rather an institution of learning,” the ruling says. Title IX, they add, only requires schools to prevent a “sexually hostile environment,” and since the off-campus environment is beyond a university’s control, it’s not clear why it is the school’s business.

Yeasin also argued that his Twitter posts were protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech, but the court didn’t rule on that matter.

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