A Huntsville High School student who posted a picture of himself on Instagram holding an assault rifle and wearing a trench coat won't be returning to the school this fall, said an attorney for the student's mother.
The student, who is identified in federal court documents only as K.P., was expelled for a year on March 5 because of the Feb. 24 Instagram post.
His mother, Jessica McKinney of Madison County, sued the school district, claiming in part that her son was being deprived of his right to free speech.
On Thursday, a federal judge denied a motion for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed K.P. to return to school this month, said W. Whitfield Hyman of Fort Smith, an attorney for McKinney.
"The only way he's going to get back in school is if we find different facts than we've found so far and are able to get them in front of the judge to change his mind," Hyman said. "But it wouldn't be this semester, that's for sure."
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks came on the deadline for K.P. to begin cross-country running practice for Huntsville High School this fall, Hyman said.
The fall semester begins Aug. 14. Hyman said the school's first cross-country meet is scheduled for Sept. 8.
Hyman said K.P. could lose scholarship offers to run cross country in college if he doesn't compete during his senior year of high school.
"We were trying to get him back into school," Hyman said, "and the judge ruled among other things that he didn't think we were going to prevail in the case based on the facts he had before him now. ... And even if we do, the damages weren't irreparable -- we're not facing irreparable harm."
Besides wanting to get K.P. back in school, McKinney's attorneys, Hyman and Monzer Mansour of Fayetteville, sued the Huntsville School District for punitive damages in the case.
Hyman said Brooks verbally denied the motion for preliminary injunction during a telephone conference Thursday. There was no written order regarding the motion filed as of late Friday. The case was filed in federal court in Fayetteville.
K.P. can finish his senior year by taking online courses and graduate in the spring, Hyman said. If K.P. moves to another school district, he would be required to sit out for a year before he could compete in cross country, Hyman said.
"The principal said it's highly unlikely that another school would accept him with an expulsion and terroristic threatening on his record," Hyman said, referring to Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix.
Hyman said the facts in the case, for the most part, are undisputed.
K.P. posted the photo on Instagram while at his father's house in Rogers on Feb. 24 -- 10 days after a school shooting left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., according to court filings.
"During the photo shoot, K.P.'s father let him use as a prop a non-functioning AR-15 rifle that his father owned," according to the amended complaint filed in federal court. "K.P. wanted a photo that emulated a 1920's style photo of a man holding a tommy-gun because K.P. found the photo aesthetically pleasing. Because there was no tommy-gun available, K.P. posed with the AR-15 as his father took a photograph."
K.P. posted no words on Instagram with the photo, the filings show.
The next morning, when K.P. saw some of the comments others had posted under the photo, he deleted the post, according to the filings.
One student had written: "When I drop my pencil, start shooting," according to the lawsuit. Another wrote "school shooter meme."
K.P. had replaced the photo Feb. 25 with one in which he was wearing the trench coat but not holding a gun, according to court filings. In the caption under the new photo, K.P. wrote that "nothing bad was intended" with his previous post.
"I'm an ambitious, young enterprising individual, who wouldn't throw my future away for something as pointless as a school shooting," he wrote under the photo. "If I wanted to make an impact I would choose a much more high profile crowd th[a]n a bunch of hicks and jocks who are never going to be anything of particular value."
Enix said she recommended expulsion because K.P. engaged in "terroristic threatening related to school shooting posts on social media," according to the court filings. Enix said she received calls over the Feb. 24 weekend from concerned teachers and crying parents.
According to court documents, Enix said K.P. had disrupted the learning environment by creating a situation where students and teachers were afraid to go to school the next Monday and parents were afraid to send their children to school that day.
Enix said she couldn't discuss the case with a reporter.
The Huntsville student handbook states that students can't use coercion, threat, intimidation or fear, among other things, to "intentionally" disrupt any school mission, process or function.
Another section of the handbook states: "The district's administrators may also take disciplinary action against a student for off-campus conduct occurring at any time that would have a detrimental impact on school discipline, the educational environment or the welfare of the students and/or staff."
McKinney's attorneys argue that those sections of the student handbook are "unconstitutionally vague and overbroad."
Hyman said a settlement conference July 25 wasn't productive.
"We were unable to reach an agreement, so we decided to let the judge rule on the case," he said.
Hyman said K.P. had a 3.8 grade-point average in high school.
A college recruiting website, ncsasports.org, has a profile of K.P. and a "personal statement" from him.
"Running has always been a large part of my life," the statement reads. "When I was little, I would run 20 or even 30 minutes around my house; my mom says that's why I'm good now. As I aged I realized running wasn't just therapeutic and fun, it could also be my future. I decided to join the cross country team my sophomore year and it was the best decision of my life. Now I spend every day working harder to get my times down and keep my grades high. I am prepared to do most anything in order to make running take me places."
Metro on 08/05/2018
Print Headline: School return a no-go for teen after gun post