A simple tweet can carry serious consequences, and a Shakopee High School athlete says he learned that the hard way while taking his free speech case to federal court.
Tyson Leon and his family told a federal judge on Wednesday the 16-year-old's tweet wasn't a "terroristic threat" and he shouldn't have been suspended over it. In the afternoon, the student and an attorney met with a judge to negotiate a settlement.
Tyson Leon was suspended indefinitely from all school sports and was pulled off a bus headed to a football scrimmage in August after officials said they he posted the following sentence on Twitter: "Im boutta drill my 'teammates' on Monday."
The junior maintains that the use of the world "drill" meant "tackle hard," but the school district considered the tweet a terroristic threat.
Although the case may appear to be one of free speech on the surface, anyone who digs deeper sees it's also about due process and whether participation in high school athletics is a right or a privilege. Since weighty constitutional issues are at play, the case went straight to federal court.
As a varsity wrestler, his attorney says while he hasn't been offered any scholarships yet, North Dakota State University has been scouting him since he was a sophomore and he's looking to wrestle at a Division I college, but a suspension could put an end to that dream.
On Tuesday in court, the school district indicated that it would be willing to let him return to the wrestling team. Sensing a settlement deal, the judge then ordered a mediation hearing before Federal Magistrate Judge Franklyn Noel. After Wednesday's hearing, both sides emerged and announced that a deal had been reached.
Yet, part of the core issue is the Minnesota State High School League's Student Code of Responsibilities, which each student and their parents must sign. One of the rules is to "treat others with courtesy and consideration," and any violation of the code means the student "is ineligible for a period of time as determined by the school principal acting on the authority of the school board."
Leon has had three previous suspensions from sports, one following a verbal altercation with a teacher in Dec. 2011, a second for a fight with a peer off school grounds in July 2012 and a third for "chemical use" at a party in Jan. 2013. His parents did not appeal those sanctions because they felt he needed to be punished for his actions.
An attorney for the school district said the suspension was only for the football season and wasn't meant to prevent Leon from wrestling, but Leon's attorneys argued that participation is a right and can't be arbitrarily taken away or suspended.
Superintendent Rod Thompson sent Fox 9 News the following statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying that question is still up for debate:
"This is not an issue about social media or Twitter. This is a case challenging the premise that participation in athletics or activities is a fundamental right entitled to all students rather than a privilege."
Under the terms of the settlement, Leon will be allowed to return to the wrestling team; however, the constitutional issues still have yet to be resolved.