High school Twitter ‘controversy’ is overblown

The Minnesota Daily editorial board was baffled when an Elk River high school student’s sarcastic tweet got him suspended from school and created a media firestorm.

Reid Sagehorn, 17, tweeted “actually yes” when he was anonymously asked about a rumored relationship with a 28-year-old Rogers High School teacher. Sagehorn was suspended over the sarcastic tweet and threatened with felony charges. The story spread quickly throughout Twin Cities media. The Star Tribune posted what it called an exclusive interview with Sagehorn on Monday, wherein Sagehorn apologized and said he would be changing schools.

This episode is another case of gross overreaction to teens’ social media use. We understand that the school must take any allegations of an inappropriate relationship seriously, but that’s not exactly what happened here.

Sagehorn was confronted by the Rogers High School principal, athletics director and police liaison after a parent had called and complained about the tweet. Later, Sagehorn was slapped with a two-month suspension, and the Rogers Police Chief publically and erroneously claimed that the honors student could face felony defamation charges.

The school seems to be overcompensating because it feels threatened by student social media use, not actually investigating a potentially inappropriate relationship.

It’s easier to make an example out of Sagehorn than it is to figure out which students are starting those rumors in the first place.

It’s easier to strong-arm Sagehorn into an apology than it is to learn how teens use social media and teach better practices.

It’s easier to turn a silly tweet on a sketchy Ask.fm page into an overblown controversy than it is to have a nuanced discussion about social media before suspensions start flying.

School officials, parents, police and local media took the easy route and blew this story out of proportion. It’s not the first time, and unfortunately it won’t be the last.