Clad in his blue graduation gown and red stole, Kylan Scheele, along with his mother and other supporters, stood along Noland Road near Truman High School at midday Friday, holding signs such as “Let him walk” that elicited honks of support from passing vehicles.
Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit on Scheele’s behalf against the Independence School District, asking that he be allowed to participate in Saturday morning’s commencement.
After Scheele posted a senior-prank Craigslist ad online listing Truman for sale, and some people saw a line from the ad as threatening, the district had suspended Scheele for three days and is barring him from walking in the graduation ceremony. After the ACLU sent a letter to the district, imploring them to reconsider the punishment, the district didn’t waver.
Late Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes denied the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order, citing insufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing by the district. The district said it stood by its disciplinary decisions “due to the substantial and material disruption of the educational environment.”
Scheele, plus another student who received similar discipline in another matter, will both receive diplomas, a district spokesperson said.
“They’re sticking to their guns,” said Denetra Clark, Scheele’s mother.
The ad, since removed from Craigslist, read largely as a normal – albeit satirical – classified ad about a building, even though it had a listing price of $12,725. However, the line “Reason for sale is due to the loss of students coming up,” caught some people’s eye as a possible threat, given recent school shootings.
Scheele says the line was in reference to hundreds of students graduating, and the ACLU said in its suit that “no reasonable person” would have guessed the “satirical ad would cause a substantial or material disruption” to the school or district and that the ad was “unreasonably construed … as a threat to kill students.”
The ACLU said Scheele’s prank ad is “constitutionally protected expressive conduct” and that suspending him and barring him from graduation violates Scheele’s First Amendment and due process rights.
In addition, students have made similar prank ads in the past elsewhere in the United States and not caused major disruption, the ACLU says.
In a statement, the district said that “out of an abundance of caution,” administrators and police had investigated the Craigslist post – as well as senior yearbook quote that made it to print and contained an “implied threat” – and found neither to be a viable threat.
However, the district statement continues, “Any student who makes a real or implied threat, whether it is deemed credible or not, will face discipline. Students who make a real or implied threat to graduation or graduates will not be allowed to attend or walk at graduation.”
In its report, Independence Police said it first became aware of the post Monday when a parent looking for used baseball equipment noticed it and called police. Upon initial review, detectives had treated the post “as a very serious threat” and were granted two subpoenas to identify the post’s origin.
After police ID’d Scheele, detectives went to his home and talked with him and his parents. Scheele, who carries a 3.9 GPA and had not been a troublemaker, his mother said, told police it was a prank and that agreed that, given the circumstances, some people could have seen the post in a different light.
Detectives agreed with Scheele that it would be a good idea to delete the Craigslist ad and to offer an apology to the school, and they filed no charges.
Clark said police were entirely professional and good to deal with.
“They understood the joke,” she said.
When the district’s decision came, she said she tried to appeal to an assistant superintendent, who told her, she said, that the conversation was over.
“That’s why I went to the media,” she said.
“He shut us down,” she added. “No conversation.”
The district said multiple parents called the district about the ad and checked children out of school, and some concerned students met with administrators about the post. Due to heightened concern nationally about school violence, the district added, it had extra police officers at school and will do the same at Saturday’s graduations.
Scheele had remained hopeful as he stood along Noland Road, saying the district overreacted to his prank ad.
“Yes,” he said, “it was definitely taken out of context.”
In a release, the ACLU of Missouri expressed its disappointment in the judge’s ruling.
“The district can still make things right,” said Tony Rothbert, legal director, “be an example for students that unfounded fear should not be used as an excuse to strip away a person’s constitutional rights and let the class of 2018 celebrate their accomplishments together.”
The Examiner’s Jeff Fox contributed to this report