Pinellas Co. student suspended over Facebook post - WFLA News Channel 8

Pinellas Co. student suspended over Facebook post

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Savvas Milatos Savvas Milatos
TARPON SPRINGS, FL (WFLA) -

The attorney for a middle school student who posted what he heard about a school threat on Facebook says his suspension and referral to an alternative school was an "extreme overreaction" and his family is fighting the disciplinary action.

The post dates back to mid-December, just after the Newtown school shooting in Connecticut and around the time of Mayan calendar doomsday speculation. Attorney Mary Coburn said 12-year-old Savvas Milatos made the post after hearing from an older cousin about the threat of a school shooting at Tarpon Springs High School.

 "Savvas made a post on Facebook on Sunday the 16th basically saying ‘Why would anybody come to the high school and shoot anybody? What's the world coming to?' Something to that effect," Coburn said.

The post itself was taken down shortly after it appeared, when the boy's aunt heard about it and suggested it be deleted.

It's unclear whether anyone from the school district ever saw the post, but, according to documents, Milatos was suspended for 10 days and referred to an alternative school for causing a "major campus disruption."

While investigating rumors of a threat at Tarpon Springs High School, officers heard about the post on Monday, Dec. 17, according to a police report. The middle schooler was questioned and acknowledged making a post on Facebook.

In a handwritten statement for the school, Milatos said his cousin "had told me not to go to school on Friday" because of the shooting threat.

"I wrote it on Facebook," the statement said.

Police did not charge Milatos, and said they found no "credible threat."

A spokeswoman for Pinellas County Schools declined to comment on the action taken regarding Milatos, citing privacy issues.

"Information from a school record, including disciplinary action, is confidential," Melanie Marquez Parra said in an e-mailed statement. "School administrators follow guidelines to fairly investigate and process student discipline matters."

Milatos' mother Barbara Perkins said she wants her son reinstated at his original school and his record clean.

"I think he was concerned as a student," Perkins said about why Milatos made the post. "He wanted to get people's opinions on it, start a conversation. That's what Facebook is."

Coburn, the attorney, said she considers the case a First Amendment issue.

Social media posts can have unintended consequences, especially without the ability to use non-verbals like tone of voice, said Kelli Burns, USF associate professor in the School of Mass Communications. It's especially tricky for young people, she said.

"They need to mean what they say when they say it online, and make sure that what they say can't be misconstrued or taken out of context in any way," Burns said. "And that can be very difficult for a young person who doesn't understand the complexities of communication."

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