'Tea Bagging' Student Can't Prevent Transfer

8/4/2011 5:18:00 AM, Kevin Koeninger
     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - A federal judge has declined to issue a preliminary injunction to a high school student hoping to prevent his transfer to another school after being implicated in a "tea bagging" hazing ritual.

     U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz ruled the student "is so unlikely to prevail on the merits of his procedural due-process claims that, even if he will suffer irreparable harm from the transfer ... a preliminary injunction is not warranted."
     In a lawsuit filed in May 2011, the student, identified only as J.K., claimed his transfer by officials of the Minneapolis School District, was a "de facto expulsion" that violated his due-process rights by "preventing him from continued attendance at Southwest High School, depriving him of continued participation in varsity athletics, and causing damage to his reputation and good name."
     J.K. faces the transfer because of a hazing incident that occurred during a high school baseball team trip to Florida in March 2011.
     While on the trip, J.K. allegedly held down a member of the team while another boy exposed his genitals and rubbed them in the restrained teammate's face. The act is a frat house-style prank commonly referred to as "tea bagging."
     After an investigation of the incident, J.K. was found to be an accomplice to the act and, because the school thought expulsion was too harsh of a punishment, the student was told he would be "administratively transferred" to a different school.
     To Schiltz the question raised by the case, "for due-process purposes, is whether J.K.'s transfer ... deprives him of his property interest, under Minnesota law, in a public education."
     Schiltz found that "to argue that attending a high school other than Southwest would deprive J.K. of a public education - that is, of any public education - is tantamount to arguing that all high-school students in the District who are not attending Southwest are themselves not receiving a public education. The argument is meritless."
     J.K. also claimed that the transfer would prevent him from continuing in varsity athletics.
     But here too the judge found the argument less than compelling.
     "If that a student has no rights to take classes at a particular school, a student likewise has no right to play sports at a particular school. J.K. therefore has no property interest in playing interscholastic sports at Southwest, at most, he has a property interest in playing interscholastic sports somewhere," he wrote.
     Finally, J.K. argued that the transfer would harm his reputation and standing in the community.
     In considering the claim, Schiltz explained that for a reputation-based procedural-due-process claim to be successful in this case, J.K. had to establish that the transfer will inflict both of two types of harm on him: (1) damage to his reputation and (2) a tangible burden of some kind."
     Schiltz acknowledged that the transfer would constitute a tangible burden on the student, but he also noted that "after his transfer, [J.K.'s] academic record will simply show that he transferred from one school to another and will not provide a reason for the transfer ..."
     "Thus, there is no evidence in the record to show that in transferring J.K., the District will communicate any stigmatizing information that will harm J.K.'s reputation," Schiltz said.J.K., who filed the lawsuit by and through his parents, Donald Kaplan and Thea Lucille Nelson, is represented by Atlee Reilly of the School Law Center. Attachment