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A high-school student in upstate New York has been suspended and accused of trying to incite “a social media riot” after he suggested budget cuts for his public school – beginning with elimination of his principal’s job.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that students have a right to self-expression, as long as that expression doesn’t disrupt classwork or school activities or invade the rights of others.

And that’s where the conflict about the student’s action lies, because the Syracuse Post-Standard reports the superintendent of Cicero-North Syracuse High School accused senior Patrick Brown of using Twitter to incite “a social media riot.”

Whether the purported “social media riot” was disruptive to classwork or school activities remains unclear.

Brown was suspended for three days Thursday after starting a Twitter hashtag, #s–tCNSshouldcut,  that solicited ideas for district budget cuts for next year after voters rejected a $144.7 million budget plan. The hashtag quickly became popular, and students posted ideas during the school day.

The senior said he originally started it as a joke, suggesting the principal’s job should be cut, but then students began discussing rumors of cuts to athletics and extracurricular activities.

Students and Twitter users posted ideas for to save money, including the following:

  • “Cinema, I’m sorry, but really, you pay a teacher to have kids watch movies”
  • “Anime club”
  • “Cheerleading”
  • “Excessive budgets”
  • “Outdated code of conduct”
  • “3-D printers”
  • “Teachers who use their cell phones in class”
  • “The superintendent”
  • “Administrators that managed to get us into this mess, financially and socially”
  • “How about a CNS employee health care contribution increase?”
  • “Primarily, the board of education, and honestly most of the teachers, too. Extreme Makeover: School Edition”

Then Brown said, “I was called down to the office and told I was being suspended for harassment of teachers, [while] no harassment was ever committed.”

Brown admitted using his cell phone during class, which is against school rules, but he said his teacher never told him to stop.

“I proved them wrong and instead they suspended me for cell phone use in class and disrupting the education process because the trend I started created a social media riot.”

“I can understand if you tweet something that is threatening about the school or threatening about a teacher, but that’s not what I did,” he argued. “It makes me uncomfortable that I can get in trouble for expressing my opinion.”

Brown said he’s never been in trouble at school before.

“The worst part is that I disappointed my parents by being suspended,” he said.

Students from several districts created a new hashtag to show support called #FreePatBrown.

“It’s wrong that I can’t express my opinion on Twitter without being punished,” Brown said. “They didn’t like our opinions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t express them.”

North Syracuse Central School District Superintendent Dr. Kim Dyce Faucette told CNN she couldn’t comment on student disciplinary matters.

“We have a student code of conduct that is a policy we abide by,” Faucette said. “Students and parents know the expectations of this policy, and whenever a situation arises where a student does not meet those expectations we deal with it accordingly.”

Twitter has been exploding with comments about the suspension, including the following:

Concerned individuals may contact the North Syracuse Central School District by calling (315)218-2100 or through the district’s online contact form.

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