A Gainesville High School student is no longer enrolled after administrators learned of racially-charged and threatening social media activity posted by the student.
The high school senior first gained attention on the internet Monday after he posted a captioned photo on the social media site Reddit, claiming to have called United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report an undocumented student who also attended Gainesville High School.
The photo, which depicted the student with a pipe in his mouth, sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat before the backdrop of an Andrew Jackson-inspired, Donald Trump portrait, was captioned, “MFW (my face when) I report an illegal who goes to my school to ICE.”
WUFT News is not publishing the name of the student due to the nature of the offense and because he is a minor.
Following the post, Reddit users unveiled a series of posts from the student’s account, which has since been deleted, containing derogatory slurs toward the LGBT community and African Americans, as well as detailed threats of violence toward those groups.
David Shelnutt, Gainesville High School principal, said the student’s comments were not representative views held by the school’s staff and student body.
“One person does not get to speak for 1,800 people,” he said. “We have a wonderfully diverse student body.”
Shelnutt addressed students over the intercom Tuesday to announce the senior’s departure and remind students of the school’s appreciation of diversity.
Employees and school resource officers were on standby to prevent potential conflict on campus incited by the remarks.
Shelnutt confirmed that despite the student’s posts, ICE agents had not contacted him regarding any student.
He said this case should serve as a lesson to all students about social media use.
“Everything that is published online is always there and cannot truly be deleted,” he said. “We always want our students to make positive choices.”
Eileen Roy, Alachua County Public Schools board member, said the student was not expelled, but she could not comment on whether the student’s departure from the high school was a mutual decision agreed upon by both the student’s parents and the administration.
“If he did not leave, we might have done [the process],” she said.
Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, said social media poses difficult First Amendment issues concerning students’ rights to publish potentially offensive or hateful speech.
“Can a public school punish a student for speech he creates while off campus, on his own time and using his own smartphone or computer? Can schools stretch their jurisdiction into the bedrooms of their students to punish them for off-campus speech? These are questions the U.S. Supreme Court, unfortunately, has yet to address,” Calvert said. “A private school could easily expel a student for such comments because the First Amendment does not apply to private schools, but public school students do have First Amendment rights of free speech.”
When contacted at home, the student’s mother was unwilling to address her son’s social media activity, but did say, “It’s an upsetting day for our family.”
Katie Mellinger contributed to this story.