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updated: 11/1/2017 11:52 PM

Barrington High students suing district for handling of controversial photo

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By Sarah Zoellick
Daily Herald correspondent

Six Barrington High School students have filed a defamation lawsuit in federal court saying they were unconstitutionally disciplined after other students saw a group photograph taken at a private "white out"-themed party and mistook one of the girls' tagged initials, K.K.K., "as alignment with the Ku Klux Klan."

Other students then "made it their summer project to instigate a virtual internet mob to threaten and pressure District 220 to involve itself and mete out punishment for the thought crime they imagined had occurred," the lawsuit says.

The suit, filed on behalf of the students Aug. 7, names District 220 as a defendant, as well as Superintendent Brian Harris and Barrington High School Principal Steve McWilliams. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case two days later, saying the girls were never deprived of any constitutional rights.

"Contrary to the allegations contained in plaintiffs' complaint ... (they) have not been disciplined by the School District," the motion to dismiss says.

Federal records indicate the case is set for a status hearing Monday.

The lawsuit says the defendants "hauled the plaintiffs' minors in for unwarranted interrogations into what (even if the internet mob's imaginations had been correct) is patently protected free speech that District 220 may not punish."

According to the complaint, the photo was posted to social media and tagged with the initials of the host. Another Barrington High student then shared the photo on Twitter calling for disciplinary action, it says.

Harris said in July that officials easily identified eight girls in the image as Barrington High School students.

The lawsuit quotes from a statement he issued to parents on July 13 saying that "the district does not condone the actions of the students in the photo" and "will determine the appropriate consequences."

It also says McWilliams told a group of protesters outside the school the next day that the students were guilty of "behavior" that he "will not stand for," that is "outrageous," and that "burns me to my core."

zoellicksarah@gmail.com

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